Uniform Resource Locators, commonly known as URLs are the address system for finding things on the internet. Unfortunately, they’re often not very humane. Can you imagine having to type this lovely example into your browser (much less trying to remember it!)
Yikes! (This, by the way, is the URL of our new physics paper) Getabs? Servlet? prog=normal? WTF?
This blog, powered by WordPress, does a little better:
The blog’s domain, followed by the year, month, and date of the post, and finally the title. Not bad for something generated by a computer each time I sit down and write a new post. WordPress also gives me the option of writing the URL myself, but I never bother. Why? Because people have designed systems to deal with this problem, or have otherwise learned to cope. People create bookmarks for places they want to get back to, or remember instead of the URL, the path that they took to get there from other websites, or enough keywords that they locate it again via Google.
Still, the one part of a URL which people actually do try to remember is the domain name, the something.whatsit.com. It is the part which is often spoken aloud, in conversation or in radio and TV adverts. People remember the domain names, and good ones are worth a lot of money.
Which is why doing inhumane things with your domains is an inexcusable offense. Consider the difference between typing ox.ac.uk and www.ox.ac.uk in your browser bar. That’s right, one dumps you to an ‘address not found’ failwhale, and the other gets you to the University of Oxford’s homepage. Why doesn’t ox.ac.uk redirect to http://www.ox.ac.uk just like every other website on the internet?
I requested this ‘feature’ on a feedback form from the OUCS website (located at www.oucs.ox.ac.uk). The response?
“I’m afraid that this isn’t possible in the Oxford environment.”
That’s right folks. Whatever crazy hosting technologies we’re packing here at the 2nd best university in the world (12th best in technology), they aren’t capable of issuing an HTTP redirect. What kind of shady bub’s business are we running here? I’m not sure if I should be reassured that it isn’t just OUCS being too lazy to set up the redirect.
Oxford, I’m not sure how you’ve managed to rest on your laurels for this long and not drop completely off the top 100 list, but it’s high time that you get your shit together.
(Postscript: Although I mention OUCS in this post, I’m not necessisarily pointing the finger of blame directly at them. Maybe OUCS needs to sober up to what it really takes to run a world-class information technology department, or maybe the University governanace needs to actually give them the resources they need. How high up the org chart this issue goes, I don’t really know.)