Friday, 16 January 2009

Uniform Resource Locators (URL’s)

Most of us usually concentrate on the bigger picture that solves usability related issues. Sometimes, we also need to concentrate on the small little details that help in navigation. While designing, 80% of the issues lie in navigation and who would have thought that users can find URL’s confusing.

  1. URL’s are not just clicked, but understood.
  2. Most users need simplicity to know their path ahead.
  3. Trust is built when details are closely monitored.
  4. Abbreviations are not recognized universally. But ironically, not all of us know what “URL” stands for.

Two types of URL’s come to mind:
  1. Shortcuts that you would like people to remember e.g. www.bbc.com/weather or art.ebay.co.uk
  2. URL’s that can be extrapolated e.g. if I know that all usability definitions are stored as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usability, I can find Interaction at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interaction

The first pointer is much simpler to achieve. It is a simple configuration on the server which tells the server where to go when someone asks for, let’s say, www.url.com/abc. The latter is tricky. The factors that hinder this are:


The Bigger Gain
We might not realize the relevance of simplifying URL’s as it just requires clicking. But most users step into it or click on it only once they know what lies ahead. If users don’t understand URL’s, they are not going to tread into it deeper. This means that we have lost a prospect or even an existing customer. This just goes to say that the 80/20 rule holds true in this case: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_principle.

Here is an article on this topic: http://uxmatters.com/MT/archives/000240.php

1 comment:

Anshuman said...

The other issue is about standardisation. If you notice, different sites do this differently.

What works at one place doesn't work at another e.g. on multiple instances that users tend to add www in front of a URL irrespective of the URL e.g. http://www.mail.yahoo.com/ instead of mail.yahoo.com – which works for Yahoo but does not for many other websites (as it requires correct server configuration).

Similarly, the finance page on Yahoo is typically finance.yahoo.com. So if you extrapolate it for the Indian version, it should be finance.yahoo.co.in. However, Yahoo uses http://in.finance.yahoo.com/. The saving grace is that finance.yahoo.co.in redirects to the correct page.

Similarly, as you rightly pointed that sometimes choice of a tool restricts this. PostOffice uses a workaround by using a predefined URL to redirect to the correct page e.g. http://track.royalmail.com/ redirects to http://postcode.royalmail.com/portal/rm/track. But as you pointed out the URL in the address bar doesn't reinforce the memorability of the URL.