Monday 10 June 2002

Belt and suspenders

Henry Fonda as Frank, the hired gunman in Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the WestProfessor Salo adopted a pragmatic solution to the problem of handling weblog post IDs:

We will put in a new id attribute, appropriately constructed, while leaving the a name the way it was.

Still, I had some reservations about the new approach, mainly because Prof Salo called it a belt and suspenders method, and that reminded me of a line in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. Frank (played by Henry Fonda) is the hired gunman with ambitions to become a businessman. He says contemptuously to the owner of the Chinese laundry:

“How can you trust a man who wears a belt and suspenders? Man can’t even trust his own pants.”

I’ve seen Once Upon a Time in the West fourteen times and it’s clearly had a profound impact on me, because I overcame my reluctance to Prof Salo’s suggestion only with some difficulty. But it’s done now and seems to work well.

It set me wondering though, about the ideal format for permalinks. I’m currently using:

because that’s the permalink format for Radio UserLand (my previous blogging tool), it’s also the Movable Type default, and I assumed it was some kind of immutable standard.

But I noticed that Professor Salo uses monthly archive pages to construct her permalinks:

And that Professor Powers uses individual entries:

While Professor Stavros uses weekly archives:

Whereas Mark Pilgrim (whom I’ve nominated as Section 508 Professor of Web Accessibility and Usability at U Blog) ignores the post ID entirely:

The Movable Type documentation says

If you want true permalinks—that is, links that will always link to a particular entry, even when it is archived on a page with several other entries—you will likely need to include an anchor (#) in your link.

That’s true, but only for day, week, month, and category archive pages (and the appropriate MT templates allow for that).

The Powers approach seems cleanest, since a permalink by definition points to a single post. The anchor may be redundant, given that it’s identical to the post number and there’s only one post on the page (though including the anchor would ensure that the post title jumped to the top of the browser window).

So, what are the arguments for and against the various permalink formats? When a visitor clicks on a link to your site, why would you want to show them a day, week, or month page rather than the single post? Advice and suggestions, as always, are welcome.



I specifically choose not to use indidual archives, although I'm pondering (in the context of a redesign) changing my mind. When someone clicks into my archives via a link from somewhere else, I'd rather have the post in place amongst a week's worth of other entries, so that people can sorta contextualize whatever crap I was talking about, and perhaps find some other adjacent tidbits they might enjoy.

In the lingo of the Bubble Boys, it's all about stickiness! And eyeballs, too, which is a bit icky, really, when you think about it.

Posted by: stavrosthewonderchicken on 9 June 2002 at 06:56 PM

From a search engine perspective the single entry seems most advantageous, keeps the archive page to a single topic, and the page size small - and generates more pages ( some pluses and minuses there.) Average post size is another consideration, you post long enough entries that they don't look lonely on the page, but for short posters a weekly archive may be more attractive.

Posted by: Michael Webb on 9 June 2002 at 08:32 PM

Michael nails it -- if your weblog consists mostly of "cite, link, quote, comment", stick with daily, or even weekly, as your smallest level of granularity. (I use daily.) Also, I often link to several related things in the same day, so daily archives give some semblance of context.

Posted by: Mark Pilgrim on 10 June 2002 at 01:08 AM

Forward-migration note: keep in mind that anchors in XHTML 1.1 can not start with a digit, so if you're using the post ID as a permalink, it's best to put a letter before it (and change the rest of your templates to match).

Posted by: Mark Pilgrim on 10 June 2002 at 01:09 AM

I prefer the individual archive format, and that's what my permalinks take you to (I've removed the redunant anchor tags, though). But let us not overlook the wonder of category archives - for some reason, I can read an entire blog's worth of archives by going through the categories instead of any date-based format.

Anyway, with MT, why not give readers a choice? Offer up individual, monthly, and category archives so they can browse however the hell they want to? Yeah, baby.

But for the permalink? I vote individual.

Posted by: Shannon on 10 June 2002 at 04:01 AM

I'm removing my anchor tags but keeping to individual postings for permalink. The anchor tag was really more of a holdover from my move to MT from Blogger. Should have removed it when I made the move. Twenty lashes with a wet noodle for that one.

I agree with Shannon on categories - from examining my web statistics, people who are "browsing" tend to browse via category rather than via time-based archive. Particularly if the category is interesting - metablogging, photography, and politics top the list at my weblog. Based on this, I'm going to add a link to Category for my individual archives.

Posted by: Burningbird on 10 June 2002 at 04:49 AM

I've pretty much decided to go with individual archives and I'm going to display the comments on the archive page (as in the default MT template).

Posted by: Jonathon Delacour on 10 June 2002 at 01:43 PM

One more vote for individual post archives as the target of permalinks: if you add a script to display referrers, so that your readers can see what other people are saying about your post, it's vastly easier to tell what post they linked to with individual archives. The browser doesn't tell the server what anchor it plans on going to, so if you have daily archives and stay mostly on topic like Mark does, you can get away with a daily referrers list, but while I have an idea for a referrers script for weekly or monthly archives, it won't be simple. Or elegant. Or durable.

Posted by: Phil Ringnalda on 11 June 2002 at 02:14 AM

[Removed (spam)]

Posted by: atsu on 20 April 2003 at 06:47 PM

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2002-2003 Jonathon Delacour