Knight Ridder URL problems
When Knight Ridder redesigned its newspapers’ Web sites in February, they broke links and gave the sites a unified, restrictive design. J.D. Lasica criticized the “cookie-cutter” look:
It’s as if the corporate designers said, “Miami? I know! Let's throw a palm tree into the masthead.”
But the new Knight Ridder design also allows URLs that make no sense. What newspaper’s articles will you get from links like these?
At the very least, URLs like these should return 404 errors rather than causing reader confusion. Does www.tallahassee.com/mld/philly/news/weather/ give you weather in Florida or Pennsylvania? Does www.dfw.com/mld/pioneerpress/news/editorial/4205885.htm give you the editorial board’s collective opinion at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram or the Saint Paul Pioneer Press? Granted, since it takes mischievous geeks like me to create these funny URLs, ordinary readers might not encounter them ever. But Knight Ridder’s programmers should have anticipated this chance for serious confusion and prevented it.
In that second URL, it’s the “philly” after the “mld” that actually determines which of the many Knight Ridder or RealCities sites you see, not the domain name. This is because the dozens of Knight Ridder domain names, like www.thestate.com and www.charlotte.com, all resolve to a single IP address: 188.8.131.52. Rather than taking advantage of HTTP/1.1 “Host” data sent by browsers and using the domain name to determine which Web site the reader wanted, Knight Ridder’s servers require an extra “mld” and then the name of the site over again. They use the HTTP/1.1 Host header for an initial redirect to add that extra “mld” and site name, but afterward the domain name doesn’t matter. Their URLs might as well be written http://184.108.40.206/mld/macon/, because the IP address is as unhelpful as its DNS equivalent.
The domain name ought to be the most important part of any URL. I question why Knight Ridder has made it irrelevant.
Update October 26, 2002, 11:45 pm: Originally I wrote that readers might not encounter and be confused by these funny Knight Ridder URLs much because a “mischievous geek like me” would first have to link to a Knight Ridder site like that. Well, apparently someone has.
Search for “times leader” at Google and the first result is timesleader.com. But on only the second page of Google results, the eleventh result is www.macon.com/mld/timesleader/contact_us/subscriptions_np1/, the twelfth is www.macon.com/mld/thetimesleader/news/, the fourteenth is www.kansas.com/mld/thetimesleader/news/ and the fifteenth is www.kansas.com/mld/timesleader/contact_us/about_np1/. Knight Ridder ought to be concerned about this.