Twitter is used a lot for sharing links. In fact that might be one of the main things it’s used for. And because of the nature of a lot of the discussion on Twitter, those links tend to be to either blogs or news sites many of which have a very similar structure. They will have an individual page for each story and a front page which lists the most recent stories. Of course there might also be time-based or category-based archive pages, but those aren’t important for this discussion.
If you find a story on one of these sites that you want to share with people, then the most sensible approach is to link to the individual page for the story. If you just link to the front page of the site then that is going to make sense whilst the story is near the top of that page but as new stories are published, your story will sink down the page and eventually it will vanish off the page completely. At that point anyone trying to follow your link from Twitter is not going to understand what you’re talking about.
The front pages of web sites change regularly. That’s their purpose. The individual story links will always link to their particular story. They’re called “permalinks” for a good reason – they are permanent links to a particular entry on the site.
So if I want to draw your attention to an entry on Tim Ireland’s blog, I’ll link to the individual entry, not to the front page. Perhaps it’s worth looking at those two links in more detail so that you can see the difference.
- Front page link – http://www.bloggerheads.com/
- Entry permalink – http://www.bloggerheads.com/archives/2010/11/nadine-dorries-tells-lies-digs-hole-etc/
I’m not trying to be some kind of internet policeman here. I’m not saying that you have to do it my way. I’m just saying that this seems to be a sensible approach and if you carry on linking to the front page of sites then you run the risk of people who discover your link some time after you published it getting confused when it doesn’t show them what it showed when you published the link.
It seems to me that there are three reasons why people wouldn’t make the effort to publish permalinks.
Firstly, they just don’t understand how the internet works and don’t really know what they are doing. That’s ok, of course. We were all beginners once and hopefully this post will go some way towards showing them how things work.
Secondly, they know how it works but they can’t be bothered to go to the extra effort to dig out the real permalink. I mean, often you read these stories on the front page of a site and that’s the address that is sitting in your browser location bar, so that’s the address that you cut and past into Twitter. You might also think that Twitter is a transitory medium and people will only follow your link within a few hours of you publishing it. To these people I can only say that Twitter isn’t transitory and your tweets can potentially be read months or years later. I think that it’s really worth making that little bit more effort in order to make your historical conversations easier to follow.
Finally there might be people who deliberately don’t want to publish links to specific articles as they don’t want to be called on what they linked to at some unknown point in the future. These people have worked out that Twitter isn’t a transitory medium and, instead, they rely on the transitory nature of web site front pages to make their tweets seem transitory. It’s the internet equivalent of the person who gets angry if you try to get him to substantiate an off-the-cuff remark he made half an hour ago. This is a deeply cynical and unhelpful view of the internet and I really hope that no-one reading this fits into this category.
So please make an effort to give permanence to what you say on Twitter. It’s really quite easy to do and it makes a huge difference to the quality of the discussion.