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"URL" Considered Harmful

The subject of computing vocabulary seems a hot topic around here--Friday's posting about whether "USB flash drive" is the correct term has now drawn 65 comments, explaining what people in such locales as Argentina, England, Poland, Tanzania and a U.S. Army base in Iraq have called the things. So I'm going to throw another linguistic proposition out there: Let's abolish the term "URL."

This three-letter abbreviation is needlessly confusing and, in practice, saves little or no ink or time compared to its far more understandable alternative, "address."

I was reminded of this a few weeks back when I heard a report on National Public Radio about how to avoid phishing scams. It had good advice on how to verify that you're at a bank's real site--but the expert dispensing this advice couldn't resist using "URL" instead of "address." And I had to wonder how many beginners heard "You Are El" and thought "wha?"

(Note: Anybody who insists on pronouncing it "earl" is invited to leave this thread :)

NPR's expert could have and should have stuck to "address," which takes less time to say than "URL" and is, you know, an actual word in the English language. "Address" also shows up in the interfaces of most Web browsers--Internet Explorer has an "Address Bar," not a "URL Bar."

The term "URL"--that's short for "uniform resource locator"--is also arguably obsolete as used today. It refers to a consistent scheme of addressing that covers such different Internet services as e-mail (mailto:robp@washpost.com), file-transfer protocol sites (ftp://ftp.netscape.com) and the Web (http://www.washingtonpost.com). But when people throw around "URL" now, they're only talking about Web sites.

Let's put this unnecessary TLA out to pasture and get back to using plain old "addresses." Who's with me on this?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  September 11, 2007; 10:04 AM ET
Categories:  The business we have chosen  
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Comments

I'd only agree with you if you expand it to be "web address". I like "URL", but too many people don't know it. And I've been in more than one help desk conversation with non-technical people where if you ask about an address, they rightfully think you mean the company's physical mailing location. I usually have to wind up specifying something like "the text in the bar at the top of the screen next to the Go button" before they understand.

Posted by: Adam | September 11, 2007 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Not to mention Gopher! gopher://home.jumpjet.info/11%5CBegin_Here%5CReferences

Also, I like the "considered harmful" reference.

Posted by: kevin | September 11, 2007 10:46 AM | Report abuse

I'm not with you on this. As a techie, it's important to know whether you're dealing with HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, SFTP, etc...

Web address is a fine short-hand, and aguably in conversation you would say:
"The web address is www.google.com" (http implicit) as opposed to saying
"The URL is http://www.google.com"
the former being shorter as spoken.

If you're bringing this up to change how the AP style guide addresses the issue, that's fine. But most networking/Internet professionals realize the succinctness of the system in place.

Posted by: Gman | September 11, 2007 10:47 AM | Report abuse

My name is URL. HAHAHAHA!

Posted by: Kimosabe | September 11, 2007 10:50 AM | Report abuse

I am with you. Only qualify as web address, email address, etc as mentioned by Adam.

Posted by: George | September 11, 2007 11:25 AM | Report abuse

I'm with you 101%, bob! (101%: Another no-brainer for you.)
I'm pushing 72 and I get so damned bogged down with all this alphabet soup, I just give up in frustration, thereby often missing something important(?). Sometimes, I have to stop and ask myself,"Am I reading about law, health sciences, tech, gov't., or just B.S.?"
Oh, well. Just drink "ajugajimbeam" and "kwitchurbelyakin"! :)

Posted by: PeteBB | September 11, 2007 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Sorry 'bout that, ROB! not bob. :)

Posted by: PeteBB | September 11, 2007 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Even more annoying, some of our technical contractors here call them URI for Uniform Resource Indicator.

Most of our folks here at work don't even understand what web addresses do; that they are a reference to a real computer that has the real files on them. Thus, they don't understand that getting an address wrong will affect their ability to access a page. The computer is supposed to "just know" where to go. You can't use a term like URL with people when their basic understanding of the concept is so limited.

Posted by: NW_Washington | September 11, 2007 11:37 AM | Report abuse

And while you're at it, get rid of the WWW prefix. I hate sites that require www.domainname.com to be typed rather than domainname.com.

[While control-enter may help for inputting .com addresses on a computer keyboard, it doesn't work well for other country domains, or when using a numeric keypad. The server should just take care of the name resolution.]

Posted by: mike | September 11, 2007 11:52 AM | Report abuse

A little hard-up for blog topics, eh? :)

Posted by: oh come on | September 11, 2007 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Oh come on: while not exactly sexy topics, it's important to stand up against the detritus (soft and hard) that makes computing less pleasurable and indeed less useful than it could be. Crusading against unnecessary power bricks, terminology, email junk is not a waste of time. Consumers and suppliers should be aspiring to something better. Design excellence, less waste, simplification. It's all good.

Posted by: Mike | September 11, 2007 2:42 PM | Report abuse

I used to pronounce URL 'earl' and my ex, a computer whizz, gained the nickname 'duke of earl'.
I know that's probably why he left me. . .
But address does make a lot more sense.

Posted by: Sarah | September 11, 2007 2:47 PM | Report abuse

I agree with those above, adress is fine when qualified with "Web" or whatever.

If you're dealing with techies who should understand, I guess it's not as important, since they should understand it either way; but for those who aren't as technically knowledgeable, I'm sure it would help simplify things for them.

Posted by: Frank S. | September 11, 2007 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Uh, sorry, make that "address." Should have proof read.

Posted by: Frank S. | September 11, 2007 3:33 PM | Report abuse

I just wish that there were some way of getting rid of the http, ftp, https, and www prefixes and all the domain suffixes. I totally understand the technical need for them and how their current existence reflects the fact that the Internet was built by and for IT folks, but as the Internet has expanded into a tool for almost everyone it seems that those non-intuitive terms should be replaced with better ones. If a newer, better Internet ever appears that's open to the entire world I hope that web addresses (or URLs) don't contain those indicators and are much easier to type and pass around.

Posted by: PK | September 11, 2007 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Jargon has its place, and "URL" is jargon. I'm a web designer, and I say "URL" to the engineers and "web address" to everyone else.

"Address" is too ambiguous. People do confuse it with email addresses and even street addresses. I've seen it.

Posted by: Tony | September 11, 2007 4:34 PM | Report abuse

kevin - I'm amazed that there's still a working Gopher server online! That brought back some memories.

PK - some time ago, I read an interview with Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web, in which he said he wished he'd used "www" as the prefix for a web address instead of "http." (Be honest: How many of you knew it stood for "hypertext transfer protocol"?)

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | September 11, 2007 5:10 PM | Report abuse

I like "URL," and it actually takes me less time to say than "address" even though it has one more syllable.

Posted by: A | September 11, 2007 5:29 PM | Report abuse

"Address" is shorter (to say at least) than "URL". OK. But how about the most pessimal abbreviation in modern Techniglish: www?
A 9 syllable "abbreviation" of a 3 syllable term!

Posted by: Dick Wexelblat | September 11, 2007 8:53 PM | Report abuse

I must admit I enjoyed teaching my 6th graders what a URL was and what it meant. It often put then a step ahead of their parents, and that's a big deal when you're 11 or 12. More important, it made them feel like that, knowing this, they were on the road to joining computer elite. Empowerment is a good thing. That's probably not enough justification to keep URL, but I'd miss it. And I agree that just "address" is too ambiguous.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 11, 2007 9:31 PM | Report abuse

Seldom do I ever tell my hero Rob he's wrong.

Rob, you are wrong...

The most important aspect got a short shift here; a URL by definition is
like a MAC address. It is world-wide unique, pointing to one & only one thing, be that a photo, HTML page, whatever. [Yea, there's loopback & localhost, but those are not really...]
There are about a dozen ""addresses"" we deal with: street, LAN, WAN, Wireless, State of the Union, whatever. Which do YOU mean?
And elem. school kids should learn what a URL is early-on; they'll sooner than you think need it.

Posted by: George | September 12, 2007 12:20 PM | Report abuse

I'm not following the objection outlined by George and other folks here. If I say so-and-so's address is blahblahblah.com, .net or .org--or if say "address" in a sentence that already included "browser" or "Web"--what else could I possibly be talking about but the Web address of this company or individual? Under what scenario could people think that I meant to say that The Post's street address is washingtonpost.com?

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | September 12, 2007 12:38 PM | Report abuse

"Even more annoying, some of our technical contractors here call them URI for Uniform Resource Indicator."

Emily Litella is alive and well.

Normally I'd agree Rob, but an *Identifier* as in URI is different from a *Location* as in URL.

At the end of the day, nerds need this - URI's and URL's I mean - not the phrase "At the end of the day" - nobody, but nobody needs that.

Posted by: GTexas | September 12, 2007 4:51 PM | Report abuse

Why not also eliminate the "www" as it is not really needed or is it?

Posted by: Abe | September 13, 2007 5:35 AM | Report abuse

Communicating how to access a web site has become so common that I don't even hear/read "web address" very much anymore, and hardly ever encounter "URL". It's just, "Go to suchandsuch.com." Or "Where can I find information on ..." (as opposed to "What's the URL or address for information on..."). Rarely any need for mentioning the name of the thing, just the specific ID. This is a tempest in a teapot. Rob, if you want some real action, bring up the topic of the top-level domains and how utterly useless they are because their meanings are not enforced (except the government and country TLDs).

Posted by: Allen | September 13, 2007 10:56 AM | Report abuse

How about "20", as in what's the 20?
A take-off from police lingo.

Posted by: King | September 13, 2007 12:32 PM | Report abuse

.
.
It should be pronounced yurl not earl...like urine. Just as o-r-g should be pronounced org instead of sounding as if you're hosting an orgy.

While perhaps some of this guidance might be necessary in an audio-only medium, in print most of it is unnecessary.

Just give the addy without a whole lot of preamble/prefixing.

For instance:

"Visit blog.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward for more scintillating grasping-for-topics discussions."
.
.

Posted by: Yurlinda Higginbotham | September 13, 2007 12:44 PM | Report abuse

I too am with you 100% Rob, these people have devised a smokescreen of verbal bull---t in an attempt enhance their own importance.
"Address" will do nicely for me

Posted by: Tristram Pyewipe Stuttington | September 13, 2007 1:05 PM | Report abuse

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