You-Read-It-Here-First Forum Index You-Read-It-Here-First
A collection of textual novelties
 FAQFAQ   SearchSearch   MemberlistMemberlist   UsergroupsUsergroups   RegisterRegister 
 ProfileProfile   Log in to check your private messagesLog in to check your private messages   Log inLog in 
If you want to read the articles here, go ahead, just click on a forum and find a thread that interests need to register! If you want to post something... either new or in response to someone here, then click the Register link above. It's free... and it's fun to write your ideas here. You can even create a "blog" by starting a personal thread in the Daily Life Every Thread A Diary section...

On saying website addresses: the argument for the dash

Post new topic   Reply to topic    You-Read-It-Here-First Forum Index -> Ideas about software
View previous topic :: View next topic  
Author Message
Site Admin

Joined: 17 Mar 2006
Posts: 712
Location: Oregon

PostPosted: Sat Mar 25, 2006 1:35 am    Post subject: On saying website addresses: the argument for the dash Reply with quote

Consider the problem of verbally telling someone else the web address
that gives them access to information they want.

In the past, this has been a difficult task for both parties, comparable,
I'd say, to the difficulty level of communicating via Morse code.
Unlike Morse code, a single incorrect character would often make
the project a complete failure.

There has been an evolution toward making this task easier. I hope to
outline here some steps in that evolution so far, and some ideas for
how to further decrease some of the difficulties.

I don't think I need to belabor just how hard it is to convey URLs verbally.
Consider this example:

H T T P colon slash slash W W W dot my dot ebay dot com slash ...

whereas in text, it is:


and I'm not even listing sub-directories or CGI options, "pound sign", etc.

Browsers have helped, by letting users omit the "http://" part.
Domain servers help by disrequiring the "www." part.

Beyond that, there's been an evolution in the language spoken by
URL sharers. We've taken over little-used phrases, for instance,
and used them to allow us to convey the sequences of characters and
words that make up a URL in a way that raises the chance of success
from nearly nil, to a fighting chance. One example: saying "all one word".
Also, emphasis and repetition, so "that's my DOT ebay dot com".
URLs require such precision that there's ambiguity in speaking URLs
that hardly even is noticed in ordinary language. If I say
"mister finesign dot com" is that,,, etc.? The wrong choice,
of course, leads nowhere, or worse.

Incidentally, by increasing the number of top-level domains (".org",
".biz", ".net") we've made the task of verbally communicating web
addresses more difficult, since there's one more part that can be
misconveyed or misremembered. If one is lucky enough to have
the ".com" top-level domain, one has it easier than if not.

Then, there's the trade-off between using words versus abbreviations.
If a customer has to type the full name of your store, without any
spelling errors, before he can walk in the door, you're likely to have
reduced sales. There's good reason to choose instead of On the other hand, these abbreviations
are both rare and often obscure. Rare in that there are plenty of
businesses that have CBS as their initials. Obscure in that only an
insider would know what the SEAO stood for at Unless your
abbreviation is a well-known international brand, or a clever
acronym, it won't generally be well remembered. In other
words, there aren't enough abbreviations to go around, and there are
other good reasons not to use them.

But words have other problems besides the added labor of typing.
Domain names can't include spaces, so multiple words smear together.
An example close to home: "youreaditherefirst" can be misread as
"you're a dither e-first". This is one example of the tension between
being readable and being sayable.

The web was pioneered by programmers, and programmers have
addressed the readability problem in a couple of ways, especially
the use of mixed case and underscores. So, "YouReadItHereFirst"
is relatively readable to a programmer, as is "you_read_it_here_first".
In the first case, we need to add verbiage to our verbal URL
description, so "capital you capital read capital it capital here capital
first dot com". In the second case, underscores are often difficult
to see (especially in links that are underlined), and difficult to type
(being a shifted case character in the upper right of the keyboard).

One further evolution in ease of expressing website names, I believe,
is the use of the "dash" to separate words in domain names. Its
easy to understand why the dash would not play much of a role in
the early evolution of the web. Programmers would generally avoid
having dashes separating words in a multi-word variable, since the
dash is used as the "minus sign" in programming languages, and
the minus operator has a particular place in the heirarchy of operations
that would serve to lead to the interpretation of a variable whose
name contained dashes as an expression containing one or more
subtractions of one word variables.

Non-programmers do not necessarily have this bias. Newbies can
learn what an underscore is, but pre-internet, it was not widely used,
except, perhaps, as a way of describing underlining. "Slash" is
also ambiguous to newbies: is it "/" or "\"?

On the other hand, "dash" is in the "top ten" of written punctuation,
and has been for hundreds of years. Given that we are not going to
be able to use spaces in domain names for the foreseeable future,
the ambiguity of using no spaces ("all one word"), the verbosity
and oddity of using capital letters (URLs are case insensitive), and
the visual ambiguity, novice-unfamiliarity, and difficulty in typing the
underscore, the "dash" emerges as the intra-domain name punctuation
of choice for making URLs that are both sayable and readable.

I think we should be thankful that WWW pioneers allowed the dash
into the domain name namespace. I find myself often surprised when
I find sites that do not allow dashes in usernames or other names,
since the reason for disallowing them in programming language
variable-naming syntax does not exist in the username namespace,
for example.

The biggest disadvantage of using the dash to improve both the
readability and sayability of domain names is its current unfamiliarity.
Given its advantages, I predict that it will gain more widespread usage,
and this disadvantage will diminish over time.

Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Visit the Instant Postcard Collection @
Looking for postcards of that favorite place? Family origins? Or that perfect vacation, except for the photos?
Researching your dissertation? Serious collector? Just looking for something neat?
You've found the right place to add to your existing collection, or to start a new one.
Display posts from previous:   
Post new topic   Reply to topic    You-Read-It-Here-First Forum Index -> Ideas about software All times are GMT - 8 Hours
Page 1 of 1

Jump to:  
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum

Powered by phpBB © 2001, 2005 phpBB Group