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The other day, on our listener letters segment, I noted that NPR management doesn't like us directing users to specific URL's at There is a feeling, which I share, that it's not pleasant to hear something on the radio like this:

"Just go to NPR dot org SLASH blogs SLASH daydreaming."

An alternative is saying something like this:

"Just go to NPR dot org. Click on the blogs link — it's in the left-hand column. Then click Daydreaming."

That's slightly more conversational, but not so great. The fact is, the radio is not a very good medium for delivering complex Web addresses. Plus, we have the sense that after a while, hearing all these dots and orgs and SLASHES just becomes wallpaper that listeners no longer even hear.

What do you think? Does it grate on your ears to hear these Web addresses? Got any ideas for other ways we can direct you to specific areas of

One listener had an interesting suggestion. Thomas Murray wrote us from Louisville. He thinks, "too many slashes sounds like the one-sheet for a slasher movie." His suggestion: use another more elegant word for a forward-slanting typographical slash: virgule.

It does sound nice. VUR-gyool. It's from the latin, virgula, meaning "little rod", or referring to a part of the male anatomy that is particularly diminutive.

The later meaning is probably one good reason to thank Mr. Murray but seek an alternate solution. That and the fact that almost no one knows what a virgule is.

But we could try it.

"Just go to NPR dot org VIRGULE blogs VIRGULE daydreaming."



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Personally I prefer to get the URL (rather than instructions on how to click to it) as long as the URL is human-friendly--that is, fairly short and easy to remember, and related to the content of the page. NPR is generally quite good about this, and is a great example: I'm much more likely to remember that URL (succinct, topical) than to remember a set of instructions on how to get here. Also, if you redesign your site you can easily redirect an old URL to a new one, whereas the "Click here, then there" instructions become obsolete as soon as your site's architecture changes.

I also find instructions a little cheesy/condescending; it's like you're saying that people need help figuring out how to use the NPR website. Many usability experts would say that if a website is well designed, people should be able to find what they're looking for without needing instructions; that is, you should just be able to say "You can find us at" and when people go to that page it's immediately obvious to them where to click in order to find the blog of a particular program. If this isn't the case, maybe investing in some usability testing would be a better use of management's energy than trying to enforce a "Give instructions, not URLs" policy.

Sent by Susan M. | 5:00 PM | 8-27-2008

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