Worldpress Oddity

Written by Nexcerpt on October 15th, 2010 in Patterns & News.
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Since 2002, when Worldpress.org began to use its current URL configuration, the site has displayed one of the most excellently strange (and simultaneously consistent) habits we’ve observed on any publishing platform. As journalism, Worldpress is both respected and influential, making such technical strangeness all the more peculiar.

Consider the URL for an August, 2010 interview with Heather Rogers, author of “Green Gone Wrong“:

   2010-08-17: http://www.worldpress.org/Americas/3609.cfm

…and its print equivalent, published and available online at the same time:

   2010-08-17: http://www.worldpress.org/print_article.cfm?article_id=3899

The sequential integer value (3899) for the print version is 290 greater than the sequential integer value (3609) for the layout view. If you spend time studying URL behavior, this slightly boggles your mind.

Is the delta of 290 consistent? Nope. One of the first articles using this format, from May 2002 (Vietnam’s Ghosts Haunt the War in Afghanistan) has equivalents differing by 103:

   2002-05: http://www.worldpress.org/Asia/499.cfm

   2002-05: http://www.worldpress.org/print_article.cfm?article_id=602

Two years later, in this juicy gem entitled The World’s Second-Oldest Profession, the delta has grown to 119:

   2004-04: http://www.worldpress.org/Europe/1832.cfm

   2004-04: http://www.worldpress.org/print_article.cfm?article_id=1951

Nexcerpt has monitored the URL structure for thousands of articles here; it’s clear that the deltas grow with time, albeit slowly. Today’s article about China and the Catholic Church reveals that the delta has grown from 290 to 291 in two months:

   2010-10-14: http://www.worldpress.org/Asia/3635.cfm

   2010-10-14: http://www.worldpress.org/print_article.cfm?article_id=3926

Let’s just admit it: this is strange! Perhaps most strange is that the print URL grows more rapidly than the non-print URL. The reverse could make sense: that the occasional article may be drafted, and assigned a sequential value, but never published — thus incrementing the “database” counter without incrementing the “published article” counter. Or, that some published articles might never be assigned a “print” equivalent, thus burning up “print” URL values more slowly.

But… multiple (yet unpublished) assignments of a print URL for the same article? Or, a print version with no equivalent layout view? Or, the server simply skipping print values, leaving a free integer — say, every sixty or seventy calls? Hmmm…

Nor are the gaps uniformly exclusive. The wonderfully named Hamburgers, Cured Ham, and Oil appears in layout view, and print equivalent:

   2002-07: http://www.worldpress.org/Americas/581.cfm

   2002-07: http://www.worldpress.org/print_article.cfm?article_id=687

…but article 687 also exists (in /Africa, rather than /Americas) as an interview with Exiled Eritrean Editor Milkias Mihreteab

   2002-08-21: http://www.worldpress.org/Africa/687.cfm

As with all such peculiar URL formats and behaviors, I must wonder: could Worldpress server administrators intentionally create such a bizarre configuration?

Nonetheless… kudos to Worldpress for having the wisdom to maintain the same configuration (slightly freaky or otherwise) or over eight years! Some small sites inadvertently preserve this “reliability” due to a lack of resources — they simply set up a system and ignore it. But, surprisingly few large publications show such discipline and common sense over such a long period of time.

Imagine the traffic and readership Worldpress must drive to its archives (not to mention the appeal to academic users) by maintaining the same URL structure and article locations for nearly a decade!

Other exemplars of longstanding consistent and reliable URL format, among news organizations, include BBC, NPR, and Washington Post. Their structural consistency (evidenced by stable server and URL configurations) reflects a clarity of purpose and management that few other news organizations can rival.

If I were investing in online publications, or any form of media, I would favor organizations whose URL structure has been uniformly consistent for over two years. As noted above, some smaller sites may preserve a static structure due to limits on technical or financial resources. However, for larger sites, consistency seems to reflect an essential wisdom: paying to change your URL structure is like paying readers to stay away from your site.

In a future post, I’ll write more on this theory that corporations reveal their deepest secrets of internal disorganization through constant mismanagement of their online presence. URL thrashing (especially when associated with routine design changes) tells us that an organization either doesn’t understand the web, or makes poor decisions — or both.

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