About the Author

Chris Shiflett

Hi, I’m Chris: entrepreneur, community leader, husband, and father. I live and work in Boulder, CO.

All posts for May 2010

URL Sentences

Two and a half years ago, I was helping Jon Tan redesign a web site. We share an affinity for organization and structure, but we also like to experiment with new ideas.

One morning via Skype, I shared a crazy idea that I wasn't entirely sure of yet, trusting Jon to tell me if it was a bad idea.

What if we make every URL a sentence?

Before he could respond, I pasted in some examples I had been playing with to help clarify what I meant:

  • /is (About)
    • /is/here (Contact)
    • /is/hiring
    • /is/chris-shiflett
  • /does (Work)
    • /does/web-design
  • /helps (Clients)
    • /helps/digg
  • /thinks (Planet)
    • /thinks/about (Tags)
    • /thinks/about/oscon
  • /remembers (Timeline)
    • /remembers/2008 (Archive)
  • /writes (Books)
    • /writes/essential-php-security
    • /writes/http-developers-handbook
  • /has (Site Map / Search)
    • /has?php
    • /has/colophon
    • /has/accessibility
  • /shares (Feeds)
    • /shares/news
    • /shares/planet
    • /shares/everything
  • /presents (Talks)

These URLs still adhere to a basic — albeit shallow — hierarchy to help keep things organized, but instead of the usual about, work, and clients, I used verbs like is, does, and helps. I was pleasantly surprised to hear Jon liked the idea. He noted some limitations, like the challenge of avoiding awkward wording when the hierarchy was deep, but he thought it was worth trying to map out the entire site to see if we could make it work.

Because the site was fairly small, it turned out well. As I noted previously, this approach isn't appropriate for all sites, but it can give URLs a voice of their own. (I don't use URL sentences on shiflett.org.) It can also help you organize your pages. For example, if a page can't fit neatly into a sentence that starts with example.org is..., then it probably doesn't belong in the about section of the example.org site.

There are other ways to make sentences with URLs, especially if your domain name can be used as a verb. And you don't mind. :-) Using verbs (present tense) as the top-level hierarchy is just one example.

There have been other uses of URL sentences over the years:

  • Jon collaborated with Jon Gibbins on a really neat site for Denna Jones that uses URL sentences and other interesting innovations. (Pages like the colophon do not, but the primary ones do.)
  • Clearleft use URL sentences in their latest redesign. Paul Lloyd discusses this and more in a related post about URLs.
  • Ann McMeekin cleverly uses URL sentences to indicate categories for her blog. Some posts she considers; others she shares. A full list of categories is available in the sidebar.
  • Cameron Koczon used URL sentences when redesigning Jessica Hische's site. She chose verbs like typographizes and designifies to add a bit of her personality to the mix.
  • Martin Geber used past tense verbs as his top-level hierarchy, creating URLs that align with the idea that his site is a personal archive of thoughts, memories, and the like. He writes more about the inspiration for the site. Thanks for the nod, Martin!
  • Kernpunkt gives a German interpretation of URL sentences. This is the only non-English example I've seen.
  • There are some examples of URL sentences being used to add a bit of flavor to an existing site without reorganizing everything. Adrian Sevitz pointed me to his company's site as one such example.

I'm really happy to see other people embracing URL sentences and adding their own creativity, personality, and style. If the idea makes sense for a site you're making, please let me know, and I'll add your example as an update or comment to this post.

If making sentences out of your URLs makes you smile or makes your work more fun, you should definitely do it. The best sites are the ones we make while having fun. :-)