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Importance of Guessable URLs in Social Software

Guess-able URLs are URLs in which a novice user can guess the format. These are often an overlooked but important aspect of social software. If you know about del.icio.us and have a basic understanding of the URLs for del.icio.us, you can make guesses about the format of a suite of URLs.

> http://del.icio.us/jimphelps

is my URL at del.icio.us. It is easy to guess that

> http://del.icio.us/yourusername

will be your del.icio.us URL. If I click on a tag in del.icio.us is will see that the URL will be

> http://del.icio.us/jimphelps/tag

if I am clicking on a tag within my account or

> http://del.icio.us/tag/tags

if I am at the top of del.icio.us. You can simply join tags (to see only items that are tagged with both Tags and Folksonomy) by adding to the URL as follows

> http://del.icio.us/tag/tags+folksonomy

Compare these URLs to a URL from Amazon.com for the new Harry Potter Book

> http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0439784549/ref=pd_ts_tb_1/104-3631435-5395148?v=glance&s=books&n=283155.

As a user, no matter how well versed in browsing Amazon.com, you have no chance of guessing this URL.

The fact that the del.icio.us URLs are easy to guess enables me to “just see” if someone has an account by guessing what username they would use or to “just see” if there is anything under a given tag. This simplifies the discover process for the software. It simplifies the discovery of content within the system.

Simple URLs also makes it easier to write interesting applications that can take advantage of the software. I can easily guess what the URL for various del.icio.us tags are. I can use this to write an application that would automatically take you to that URL if you are looking at something with a given tag.

Technorati and Flickr also support simple guess-able URLs. Technorati’s URL takes the form

> http://www.technorati.com/tag/JimPhelps

for tag based searches (or filtering) and


for user profiles. For Flickr.com, the URLs are


for tag based filtering and


for user based filters.

The Wikipedia also follows the simple guess-able URL.
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

is the URL for the top page of the Wikipedia. You can simply substitute a new term for “Main_Page” to see if there is an entry in the Wikipedia

> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Software . Note that the Main_Page URL suggests the format for your guesses of Capital_Separated_By_Underscores.

The guess-able simple URL allows the user / programmer to easily navigate and discover content and users and to easily connect to the social software through a guessed URL. They allow a user to interact instinctively with the software and reduce (to some extent) the need for a complex UI.


About jimphelps

Chair, ITANA Enterprise Architect, Sr. IT Architect; UW-Madison


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