URLs Matter in Social Bookmarking

I’ve been asked how I handle URLs on sites like Digg and Netscape. The URLs you choose to submit actually make quite a difference. Their uniqueness plays a big factor in getting promoted to the front page.

The more unique a URL is to a story, the less likely duplicates of that story will be submitted. Duplicates (aka dupes) are the bane of many people’s existance in social bookmarking. They split votes for a story between multiple submissions, thereby degrading the community’s efficiency of bringing that story to the masses. In other words, they slow a story down from reaching the front page or sometimes cause it to miss its window of promotion opportunity altogether.

Query Strings

Have you ever noticed that stories on sites like BusinessWeek, CNet and Wired have multiple URLs for the same story? Take this story on Wired for example:

This is the URL for this story that you will get from Wired’s RSS feed:

…and this is the one you will find by going to Wired’s website:

Both lead to the same exact page. The only difference is what is at the end of the URL. Everything from the question-mark to the end is what is called a query string. Many sites use these for different purposes which I will not go into. News sites often use these to collect information about where you found their article. If you visit the first link above, it tells Wired that you clicked the link in their RSS feed. If you visit the second link, it tells them that you found it from their website.

Often you can actually strip the query string off of the URL altogether and still go to the exact same page, which is a handy way to shorten a URL you think is too long:

So when it comes to submitting stories like this, the problem is Netscape and Digg recognize all 3 of the above URLs as different stories. Which one do you choose? With popular sites like Wired, it is all but guaranteed that all the different versions of a popular story’s URL will be submitted (duped), so you have to determine which URL will be the most popular one that people try to submit, so that yours is the one that pops up as the original when they try to submit a dupe.

Determining which URL will be more unique for a story depends on the site. If the site has a “Digg This” button on their articles, then always err towards using that. If not, you have to consider whether more people will access the article through the RSS feed or trough the website.

I would encourage all content producers that want to be successful on social bookmarking sites to strive for unique URLs for all your content.

Wire Stories

Stories from Reuters or the AP are entirely another hassle where URLs are concerned. It is impossible to have a unique URL for these stories because so many reporting services pick them up (Yahoo! News, CNN, Newsvine, Topix, etc.). For stories like these you have to rely on others to search before submitting in order to prevent dupes. Whether or not it is a wire story you are trying to submit, I would encourage all social bookmarkers to make it a habit to search before submitting.

The Future

I hope that in the future this is made to be less of a concern when submitting stories. Let’s face it: no one wants to worry about URLs when social bookmarking and having to do so would be a barrier to entry for less technically savvy people. I would love it if these sites would provide more powerful tools for both preventing dupes and dealing with them after they have been discovered. I’ll write more about that another time though.