Permalinks Considered Harmful?

The following discussion is originated and influenced by Jukka Zitting, originally running at the Finnish blogiwiki. I am just translating the discussion here in English and providing a place to discuss it.

With a lot of the recent discussion (which is really a rehash of some older discussion) Jukka spoke of something that has also been disturbing me for a while, but could never really put to words:

Permalinks are really annoying.

  • They are usually very hard to find on the blog, being efficiently hidden.
  • Every blogging engine uses a different convention (some use '#', some use the time [took me a long time to figure this one out], some use the word "permalink", some don't even provide one).
  • The logical way of cut-n-paste from the browser header line does not work, since it contains just the front page address.
  • The permalinks are usually hard to guess.
    • This is simply because every engine uses a different way: for some this is basically just the entry number in a monotonically increasing order. For others, it is the date and the title in some logical but unintuitive format.

However, permalinks are the key ingredient to weblogging. We could not function properly if there was no way to link to specific entries of other weblogs. It is just that the "latest entries on a single page" -metaphor hides them extremely efficiently. This discourages linking, and linking is the key to connectivity, and connectivity is the key to weblogging.

So basically, we have a nice concept of weblogs, but one of the key elements, permalinks, is being treated like a necessary evil, and hidden away. Some companies even break the permalinks on occasion; not even providing proper redirection. Clearly, some better solution is needed.

Wikis solve this in a different manner - the RecentChanges list is basically a weblog, which consists of a list of links to multiple entries. Permalinks are thus easy and logical to find - they are either of the normal "underlined blue word" -variety, or you can just cut-n-paste the URL from the box on the top of your screen. This method is also being used in some weblogs. Unfortunately, this makes the weblog harder to read, since much more clicking is now involved.

There is also a more fundamental difference between a WikiWiki and a WebLog: In a Wiki, pages are not static, but they can be refactored, added to, removed, and changed many times during their lifetime. Weblog entries are in general only touched to correct typos later on. This is something that makes WikiNature and ~WeblogNature fundamentally different.

BUT!

We have RSS. In RSS, there is no problem, since all of the BlogFlow is "chunkized", to quote Ben Hammersley, and within each entry, you will see the permalink in a much more prominent manner. This suggests to me that RSS is really the native format of the weblog world. In a way, even the front page of a weblog is really just an aggregator : it combines the latest entries together into HTML and sends it off to the browser - RSS does the same thing, except that it does not build the web page at the server end.

Meg Hourihan suggested at ETCon that while writing is well covered with good tools, we're lagging behind in reading tools, which suggests to me that we should work more on RSS and think whether the browser-based metaphor of weblogs is really the correct one?

Please discuss this entry.

Some random notes:



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"Permalinks Considered Harmful" last changed on 15-Oct-2003 11:18:40 EEST by JanneJalkanen.

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