Chocolate Oranges, Permanency, Ireland, Terms and Conditions.

The following paragraphs are connected.

Ronan gave me a Terry’s Chocolate Orange for Easter. I could choose simply to eat this tasty spherical snack, but given my tendency to tweet the ephemera I’m more likely to tell my small corner of the interworld.

While giving the package a gently crack on the desk (that’s what you do) to split the segments, I came across this paragraph in a sample Terms & Conditions document that a client had been customising for their website:

Those wishing to place a link to this Website on other sites may do so only to the home page of the site (www.WEBSITE.COM) without prior permission.  Deep linking (i.e. links to specific pages within the site) requires the express permission of COMPANY.  To find out more please contact us by email  person@WEBSITE.COM

The thirtieth of December 2012 was an amusing day on the internet in and around Ireland. On the fourth of January 2013 the rest of the web realised and sat jaw ajar at the ridiculous situation the Irish Press (National Newspapers of Ireland) had created by demanding a website (a charity, no less) pay the newspaper for permission to place a link to a article relevant to their website.

Last March, Jeremy made a bet. Frustrated in the wake of the BBC shutting down a swathe of sites, Geocities being mothballed and subsequently annihilated he wagered that the URL structure of the site Long Bets would not survive the next decade. That in 2022 the url http://longbets.org/601/ would no longer resolve to the very page Jeremy had just created.

How are these connected?

The key phrase in both the Terms and NNI statement is that the “deep link” should be avoided. The person who first penned the clause probably had good intentions, thinking as Jeremy feared that the permanency of the URL structure would in time change and that 404 Not Found errors would occur – which is good for nobody. Then the lawyers or clueless business types got involved. The problem is that this means articlesproducts and photo albums for example cannot be pointed at. But what do you want then – a list of instructions on how to find the article you intend someone to visit? Crazy.

Per Keith

“Cool URIs don’t change” wrote Tim Berners-Lee in 01999, but link rot is the entropy of the web. The probability of a web document surviving in its original location decreases greatly over time. I suspect that even a relatively short time period (eleven years) is too long for a resource to survive.

And more from TBL

Myth: A normal link is an incitement to copy the linked document which infringes copyright.

The ability to refer to a document (or a person or any thing else) is in general a fundamental right of free speech to the same extent that speech is free. Making the reference with a hypertext link is more efficient but changes nothing else.

I received a mail message asking for “permission” to link to our site. I refused as I insisted that permission was not needed.

There is no need to have to ask before making a link to another site.

And Terry? What if I choose to like the page labelled Terry’s Chocolate Orange on facebook? Frankly, that’s of value to them. Mr Kraft Food Company likes it when I do that. It means he gets to put quizzes, promotions and images in my facebook feed. What the Irish papers seem (seemed?) to be fearing is either a lack of page views (scared the visitor will not click through to other pages or their front page, thus losing out on valuable pay-per-impression advertising data. That’s their problem to solve through promoting a good user experience, not your responsibility to avoid.

Most blogging platforms provide two URLs for articles (whether you know it or not). This article will likely be http://www.davidlowry.co.uk/?p=494 but in your browser you will see http://www.davidlowry.co.uk/494/chocolate-oranges-permanency-ireland-terms-and-conditions. One is permanent and safe, the other is decorative (leave out a few words and it still works). Both are guessable – the key part being 494. If I ever changed host, setup, URL structure or even blogging engine it would be simple to fix the URLs to move forward.

URLs should be simple and guessable and unchanging. An article if deleted, redacted or redundant (i.e. a blog post might be made “draft” for changes, a clothing item might have limited stock and be removed from listings, or a timely blog post advertising a change of detail to an interested audience might be irrelevant in the long term, but a dead link helps nobody. I urge clients not to delete articles, instead to mark them as “This article is out of date” or at worst remove the content of the article leaving a stub explaining why.

It’s a web developer’s responsibility to ensure that a site is built to be future-proof. The site content editor is generally in control of publishing, and they share responsibility for using their CMS well to create good content with good URLs.

A side note: when those papers sign up a social media or “SEO” company and pay them thousands of euro for their advice, I’d love to be a fly on the wall.

Lessons?

  • Make URLs simple, permanent and guessable
  • Modify rather than destroy old content
  • Avoid 404s/Not Found errors
  • Make good content
  • Use links – it’s what the web relies on

In any case, this link doesn’t belong to the Irish Newspaper Network… it’s mine.

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