I’ve spent a large chunk of today and yesterday typesetting books with extensive notes sections, and the URLs for online resources were largely, well, large—ridiculously long and convoluted. Here’s an example:
1. Oil-Proved Reserves, “BP Statistical Review of World Energy June 2007,” BP Global,
statistical_review_of_world_energy_full_report_2007.pdf (accessed 4 March 2008).
That’s no problem if it’s on a web page. You wouldn’t see all that gobbledygook, just the title of the report as a link. In a book, especially a large-print book, you have to see the entire URL. But it’s so unwieldy, who’s going to actually use it? And that one is mostly words, at least. How about this:
30. Serge Schmemann, “Israel Redefines Its Dream, Finding Wealth in High Tech,” The
New York Times, 18 April 1998, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9502EE
D7123CF93BA25757C0A96E958260&sec=travel (accessed 6 June 2008).
When the templates for these URLs were conceived, did anyone consider that they might eventually be communicated to others via something besides a computer? Or were they just assuming that the book is dead, anyway, so who cares?
That second link appears to be a URL created on-the-fly. What happens when they change the back-end system for their content database, so the format of all the URLs changes? It’s not like database systems never change.
Besides, it appears to me that these two examples could’ve been cited considerably differently. The BP Statistical Review is probably published as a book; why not cite it with a simple, basic book citation? And the NYT article could be cited simply too. In that case, a user could go to a library and use whatever online archive was available, or go to the NYT to find it herself, or even find it in a print collection (if such a thing exists).
So maybe the problem isn’t just with computer programmers, but with bibliographers, too.
Either way, someone oughta be thinking about this, because the results of what we have now are ugly, and ugly usually isn’t terribly usable.
And I’m not even getting into the issues I had making these fit into cleanly breaking lines in 16-point type. Gah.