Sunday, July 17, 2005

Permalink Paradox

permalink paradox

It's a "permalink paradox".

Tom Coates' essay on permalinks, "On Permalinks and Paradigms...", has no permalink.

The essay on permalinks has no permalink.

Here's how I discovered this blog oddity.

I wanted to write an essay on permalinks. I Googled the word "permalinks". The Tom Coates article was on the first page of search results.

Google displayed the permalink for the essay, but when I click-selected the link, and viewed the essay on permalinks, no permalink for the essay was discoverable. Or am I just going blind? I can't see it anywhere.

Tom's essay is good.

Most bloggers probably don't stop to think about how:

* the atomic unit of the web is the web page

* the atomic unit of the blogosphere is the post

* the permalink radically altered blog usage and value

* the permalink enabled posts to be referenced, linked to, and act as isolated entities in their own right

But sometimes it's hard to find the permalink to a post.

In Blogger, it's hidden in the form of the time stamp at the bottom of the post, next to "posted by [...]".

An approach I prefer and recommend is to call it the blog norm "permalink" and place it close to "comments", "trackbacks", and "email this post to a friend" functionalities. This complies with user expectations and logic.

Here is the Tom Coates essay. Combined with comments by famous, pioneering early bloggers, it is a nice exposition of permalinks. Go to the original article and read the comments for the bigger picture, and historical clarifications.


Posted June 11, 2003 09:56 AM.

There are some things that become so ubiquitous and familiar to us - so seemingly obvious - that we forget that they actually had to be invented.

Here's a case in point - the weblog post's permalink.

I mean - let's think about it.

The problem was that a weblog's front page is by far its most visited page. This is the page where everyone actually sees your content (or at least it was until the creation of RSS feeds).

But it's not possible for someone to effectively bookmark or link to that particular entry on that page, because shortly it will scroll off the bottom.

Added to that, bookmarks operate at the level of pages, not posts.

So how do you handle that? How can you make it possible for people to link to something with a higher level of granularity than just the page?

Moreover, how can you get them to link to something that's not actually on the page you're looking at?

I remember when permalinks were invented - or at least, I remember when the concept was applied to Blogger weblogs in roughly its current form.

After some digging around, I've found Paul Bausch's post on Blogger's weblog from March 2000. In the post, he referred to them just as "permanent links" - I believe it was Matt Haughey who coined the term 'permalink', but I could be wrong. I've researched both their sites, but I've found little commentary about them...

When permalinks first emerged, I was highly dismissive of them.

I felt really uncomfortable with how hacky they seemed.

Late-1999 / early-2000 was quite a creative time for people making weblog-related toys and paraphenalia.

The concept of the permalink had all the signs of being equally useless and badly thought-through.

For a start, it required yet more clutter on the weblog-page. The designer in me railed against them.

But more than that, they seemed to be a kind of weird abomination - a sin against what links were there to do. Clicking on a permalink didn't take you anywhere, you just ended up roughly where you were before, only in a more stable form.

Sometimes (assuming you were already inside a site's archives) clicking on a permalink would even take you to the same place on the same page you were before. At the time I honestly didn't believe that they'd take off - that anyone would use them. But of course they did...

But why did it take off? What was so important about the permalink?

It may seem like a trivial piece of functionality now, but it was effectively the device that turned weblogs from an ease-of-publishing phenomenon into a conversational mess of overlapping communities.

For the first time it became relatively easy to gesture directly at a highly specific post on someone else's site and talk about it.

Discussion emerged. Chat emerged. And - as a result - friendships emerged or became more entrenched.

The permalink was the first - and most successful - attempt to build bridges between weblogs.

It existed way before Trackback and I think it's been more fundamental to our development as a culture than comments...

Not only that, it added history to weblogs as well - before you'd link to a site's front page if you wanted to reference something they were talking about - that link would become worthless within days, but that didn't matter because your own content was equally disposable.

The creation of the permalink built-in memory...links that worked and remained consistent over time, conversations that could be archived and retraced later.

The permalink stopped all weblog conversations being like that guy in Memento...

And yet no one seems to remember much about their creation.

At the time they were a tiny paradigm shift in a tiny community of committed web-weirdos. No one thought that they might be one of the fundamental structuring principles of half a million sites.

And so no one's really written about them. No one's really researched their creation. And no one's given Paul Bausch and the Blogger crew the mad props they deserve. It's probably time we did something about that...


Blogger allows you to either have permalinks or not. A permalink is the assigning of a separate URL to each post. Blogger calls this function "post pages", individual pages for each post.

I don't know why anyone would not want a permalink or post page for each post published on their blog.

If there were no permalinks, you could not link directly to a specific post on a blog.

You'd have to give the blog's main index page URL, then the title and date of the post, which the user would have to look up in a search site function or in the archives. Very time-consuming and labor-intensive.

So, aren't you glad permalinks exist?

But--why are they so hard to find?

Why aren't they all labeled "permalink"?

On my blogs, you can discover the permalink or post page of any post by (1.) hovering your cursor over the title of the post in the "Recent Posts" list, or (2.) hovering your cursor over the time stamp of the post.

BTW, the permalink for this post is:

[signed] Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate



Tom said...

I think you're missing the point a little - a permalink is on index pages or archive pages and is a way of finding the permanent URL for a page. The entry page itself doesn't need a permalink, because you just cut and paste the URL in the address bar of your browser window. The URL for that entry is - of course -

steven edward streight said...


I didn't know I said or implied that the entry page needed a permalink. Maybe I did.

The question to me is why "permalink"? What links are not intended to be permanent? Link rot is an avoidable error.

Better: post link.

That's all it is, it doesn't need the word "super" or "infinite" or "almighty" or "futuro" or "perma".

Just what type of link it is, distinguishing it from exo-links and intra-site links.

Thanks, Tom, for, as author of the admired and quoted essay, coming to the little blog to post a comment.

I always hope that will happen, but it's not the agenda, just a sub-benefit.

A conversation with a blog pioneer and leading theorist of blogology is an honor and duly noted.

You, Tom, have the most intellectual and social definition of "blog", which I've quoted in one of my many blog history, definition, or future posts.

You said blog is a "super-distributed conversation with multiple ports" or similar. Excuse my awkward off the cuff para.


steven edward streight said...

I see now':

I am using "permalink" to mean the URL itself, whilst it actually is a \hypertext/ link or graphic link, a symbol or phrase, that is selected via user interface.

Which, when selected, tells it to activate, and destination is delivered to browser.

Is that it?