Monday, May 14, 2012

Why Every Organization Needs Its Own Permalink Service

I would recommend to any organization that they create and use their own URL bookmarking service. The benefits of creating and using such a service are many. The most compelling force is that you can create permanent URL's that have no dependency on a particular website version, technology, changes to taxonomy, changes in branding (assuming the URL service remains intact), and the ability to create multiple URL's to the same hypermedia, create vanity URL's, and many many more interesting uses.

Myself being a long time WebSphere Portal guy you might ask; "well isn't the IBM portal's URL mapping and friendly URL services exactly what you're talking about." To that my answer would be; 'Yes, They overlap, but the forces are different.' One of the objectives of such a URL is to remain technology independent and avoid any vendor locking. If you've ever done a major Portal upgrade project or even better a migration from another Portal product you'll quickly realize that you have a big problem whenever asked to maintain inbound links to the old technology or site.

The solution to this challenge is not entirely to use a link service and I won't go into details around what else needs to be done. The basics are that some links "you" company "X" control and others you can't control. The links and bookmarks that you control is the focus of this recommendation. The links you don't control have a laundry list in a project plan:
  • communicate with search engines to get re-indexed quickly after launch
  • contact partners and use site analytics to determine who is linking to you
  • develop a 404 strategy
  • use mod_rewrite or your content router rules
  • continue to evaluate misses on dead links in web analysis reports
  • eventually cut-loose and let the dead links die
So let's focus on the link you do control. The first step is to develop this service. Having done this for a large customer with site of 7 million registered users here are some features to consider:
  • URL shortening
  • Vanity URLs in paths
  • Meaningful terms in the URL
  • a rules engine! (Surprising, but with that you can enforce logic based routing of links, start and expiration times, etc)
  • A must is a nice administrative user interface for creating the link and pointing to the destination
The next and most critical step is to get every communication leaving the organization (and within the organization) using this new service. When marketing sends a link out, believe me you want that link to go to this new service. An aside - years ago I had a customer send an incorrect link out to The WSJ, NY Times and just about every other major news agency about the fantastic site redesign of their public website. It was embarrassing to the company and horrible for I.T. department since they did not have any technical failure in the launch. The URL sent out didn't exist! Had this tool existed for them it would have resolved the issue. You can always change the destination that your link service URL points to. The biggest challenge is getting the organization tuned in to using this new way of linking to the organizations web pages. Many social media and blog sites do a nice job of this by providing a part of the management inline in the pages that can be linked to (e.g. "Link to the Page" icons.) Emails sent out to customers are another big source of dead links whenever a site is overhauled - so update those systems that are generating the emails.

Wikipedia References to Related Concepts: