Entries from Oct 2009 ↓

What’s Wrong with Forward-to-Friend.com URLs?

A friend recently sent me a URL via a Forward-to-Friend.com which is a service of MailChimp. While I really love the guys at MailChimp their URLs for their Forward-to-Friend.com are simply awful. There days of social media well designed URLs are finally being recognized by many as being extremely important, but not everyone gets it yet nor does everyone know best practices for designing URLs.

Make ‘em Short and Sweet

One of the traits of a well designed URL is that they can be grokked with a quick visual scan. They should also be no longer than really necessary because one of the more common link sharing sites (Twitter) shortens long URLs automatically. There are many other traits of a well designed URL, some of which are specific to context but if it’s too long and you can’t understand something about the URL by looking at it something is really wrong. And anything that impedes sharing of links is a foolish addition. So I bitched about this URL on Twitter that a friend of mine sent me in email (let’s call her "Jane Smith" and @BenChestnut asked me to clarify. Here’s the URL:

http://us1.forward-to-friend.com/forward/show?u=0fea6c2e08126550f4c318d4b&id=cd941d1fa5

What’s wrong with this URL?

So what’s really wrong with this URL? Let me count the ways:

1.) "us1."

This subdomain seems to imply that its specific to the US which I’m lukewarm on having a subdomain in this context it adds unnecessary characters. And what’s with the "1?" Is there a ".us2?" Is this just a server convenience? C’mon guys, hide that crap the user; they don’t want to know.

2.) "forward-to-friend.com"

Okay, so it’s a cool domain, but you really couldn’t you come us with something shorter than 21 characters?!?

3.) "forward/show"

Uh, one word: "Why?!?"

4.) "?u=0fea6c2e08126550f4c318d4b"

Do I really need to say anything about this? I mean, it’s waaaay too long and how does any of this mean anything to anybody? The only thing is does it make the programmer’s life a tad easier to uniquely identify the user but only on the day it was implemented.

5.) "&id=cd941d1fa5"

Another too long and non-meaningful computer number. The "id=" identifies the URL being forwarded. But does it mean anything?

What would be better?

So here’s a better hypothetical URL with analysis to follow:

http://fwd2.net/janesmith/laura-coyle-at-fernbank

"fwd2.net"

The "fwd2.net" domain is owned by a squatter. Why not pay them a few bucks and pick it up? (or get something similar and short?)

"/janesmith"

Not super short but much like Twitter’s screen name it identifies the links shared by the user who picked the name "janesmith" (i.e it replaces "?u=0fea6c2e08126550f4c318d4b.")

"/laura-coyle-at-fernbank"

Again not short, but as this would be selected by the user before sharing it would be as short as the user wanted it to be. So the user could have picked just "coyle-fernbank" or "fernbank-oct2" or similar. But what is really important is that it is meaningful!

And another benefit?

With this format you also get this URL:

http://fwd2.net/janesmith

At that URL you could have all the links "janesmith" shared when she is logged in, and she could set those shared links to be private or public, or later once more functionality is added the links could be made selectively available to different groups of friends.

Further there could be groups of URLs shared such as anything with a trailing slash could be tagged links, i.e. in this case "jazz":

http://fwd2.net/janesmith/jazz/

Hopefully you can see a tremendous amount can be done with URL design but sadly there are still too few people who pay attention to it. Maybe that’s because there’s no book of best practices. Hmm, might be an opportunity there…

Still think it is unimportant?

And for you skeptics out there who really think that "users don’t look at URLs" take a look at the apps that are succeeding lately, Twitter being a main one. Most of them are designing their URLs well. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Thanks for asking

Anyway Ben, thanks for asking. Hoping you see the value in it, make the suggested changes, and find that it’s made a positive difference.