Thursday, March 23, 2006

Terrible web strategy, part 2

Over the weekend, Robin was telling me she wanted to keep a wishlist online. Amazon’s wish list is nice, but it’s exclusive to Amazon products (and Amazon partners). Why not have a wish list that could span multiple sites?

To which I proclaimed, “I have the answer!!” (It’s hard to pronounce those periods when you’re talking, but I promise you that I properly punctuated the maddeningly-named site.)

The concept’s simple: when she saw a product she liked, she could just bookmark the page where the product’s displayed. Not only could she tag the items however she wanted (“cookware”, “calphalon”, etc.), but she could use’s (how I hate those *$%@ing periods) to “send” the bookmarks to me by tagging the items “for:rklau”.

Simple, right?

Wrong. But not because of anything did.

Robin had a dog-eared copy of Sur La Table’s latest catalog, and had the item numbers for a bunch of products. One by one, she typed in the item # in the catalog (the Sur La Table site helpfully gives you the ability to search by item #), pulled up the product page, and tagged the page in After a handful of products, she went over to to see the results.

Odd, there was only one entry for Sur La Table.

So I had her repeat the process, to verify she was doing everything right. (She was. And yes, I’m in trouble for even thinking that this could be her fault.)

The problem? Sur La Table’s website. When you search by item #, the ‘permalink’ for the search results page is always the same, regardless of the item #. Every single search result is at the URL “”. So every time you bookmark a “new” page, sees the same URL and just saves the latest tags over the existing entry for that URL. Even worse? Navigating to that page directly just takes you to the Sur La Table homepage.

If the search results page was something like “…/search.cfm?item=284505”, then it’d be unique to (and its own site). But as it is, the keyword/item # search interface is useless.

In the age of microchunking content, permalinks are the currency of an ever-increasingly connected web of services. Failure to give your content unique URLs renders them invisible to those services, and worse, useless to users.

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