URL Redirection Rant

A few months back I had to deal with a “webmaster” on a national site that deals with public safety information. They had some very critical public safety information at a link and literally hundreds of web sites linked to it.

Then they changed the link, and had the temerity to complain when a web site I managed no longer linked to the information.

I politely suggested to the web admin to put the re-written information at the original link or to install a simple URL redirect to cause a browser looking for the old information to be redirected to the new document. Somehow this was not well received, and they declined to do anything about it.

You see, the original architects of the web SOLVED this problem neatly with a series of status codes that a web server can use to indicate to a browser where to find the information. Over the years the internet has developed a huge variety of ways to handle this issue from url-rewriting plug-ins to URL shorterners, etc.

Even more recently Emergency Management BC (yes, the provincial emergency management agency) changed their web site – complete with hundreds of documents essential to SAR and emergency response volunteers. They broke every single link – policy documents, standard operating guidelines, weekly incident reports, everything.

Now this might sound like it’s just an inconvenience, but consider more essential information. Consider an emergency when people are looking for the most up to date information and advice. Consider that Google search engine rankings will change when you remove information – and that people searching for your essential information may not be able to find it in a pinch.

In general I’m astonished at the lack of knowledge in your typical web master. I’m not a super administrator but I like to think I understand the basics and the importance of making sure people can always find essential information.

Consider the trust the public puts in us as emergency responders, and extend that to how you treat the technology, and let it inspire you to do better.



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