Categories
Thoughts

On URL readability

Yesterday, I was watching some season 6 episodes of Futurama (btw, this is their best season ever!) and I noticed the URLs in the website I was in (let’s call it foo.com). They were like:

http://foo.com/futurama/season/6/episode/9

I thought to myself “hey, this looks very clean and readable”. And then I noticed that it only has 1 less character than its non-rewritten counterpart:

http://foo.com/?futurama&season=6&episode=9

However, I’m pretty sure you agree that the second one is much harder to read. I asked for opinions on twitter, and got many interesting replies. Apart from the ones that completely missed the point, these were the core explanations:

  • = and especially & are more complex and look more like letters, so our brain has trouble tuning them out (@feather @robert_tilt @rexxars @mrtazz @manchurian)
  • Slashes have more whitespace around them, so they are less obtrusive (@feather @stevelove @kenny1987 @janl)
  • They’re all visual noise, but we always have slashes in a URL, so using the slash to separate keys and values as well only introduces 1 separator instead of 3 (@bugster @craigpatik @nyaray)
  • Slashes imply hierarchy, which our brains process easier than key-value pairs. Key-value pairs could be in any order, paths have a specified order. (@sggottlieb @edwelker @stevenhay @jwasjsberg @stazybohorn)
  • Ampersands and equal signs are harder to type than slashes. They’re both in the top row and ampersands even need the Shift key as well. (@feather)
  • Ampersands and equal signs have semantic meaning in our minds, whereas slashes not as much (@snadon)
Regarding hierarchy and RESTful design, the first example isn’t exactly correct. If it was hierarchical, it should be foo.com/futurama/seasons/6/episodes/9. As it currently stands, it’s key-value pairs, masquerading as hierarchical. However, it still reads better.
So I’m leaning towards the first three explanations, although I think all of them have a grain of truth. Which makes me wonder: Did we choose the wrong characters for our protocol? Could we have saved ourselves the hassle and performance overhead of URL rewriting if we were a bit more careful in choosing the separators back then?
Also, some food for thought: Where do you think the following URLs stand in the legibility scale?
http://foo.com/futurama/season=6/episode=9
http://foo.com/futurama/season:6/episode:9
http : //foo.com/futurama-season-6-episode-9  (suggested by Ben Alman)
Do you think there are there any explanations that I missed?
Categories
Tips

Get your hash — the bulletproof way

This is probably one of the things that everyone thinks they know how to do but many end up doing it wrong. After coming accross yet one more super fragile snippet of code for this, I decided a blog post was in order.

The problem

You want to remove the pound sign (#) from location.hash. For example, when the hash is "#foo", you want to get a string containing "foo". That’s really simple, right?