Mar 21st, 2009
Nope, this is not a post about professional wrestling. A client recently asked an interesting question about how to show her URL on printed materials:
What’s the difference if I use just my domain name in a URL or use www.mydomain.com? One of my colleagues said I should use www because more people understand what that is.
Okay. So what is the ‘www’ good for? Is it a necessary part of your Website’s address? In what contexts should it be used or omitted?
Technically, saying, www.yourdomain.com, directs the Internet user to your domain’s webserver. Saying: yourdomain.com, directs the visitor to your domain’s network and you’ll figure out which server to use along the way.
Conceptually, the former presents your website while the latter presents your brand. Visually, designers like the ‘www’ prefix for its 3.x.3 symmetry. Practically, it makes no difference.
www doesn’t necessarily denote a Webserver, it’s just a widely used convention. Sixteen years ago, when the World Wide Web only attracted the attention of computer geeks, they would install web server software on a separate test or development machine in their corporate network. Each computer in a network must have a unique host name which is prefixed to the domain name. Typically, whoever first created the network would set the theme and server names were chosen from that theme — Norse gods, British warships, state capitals, whatever. There already were loosely adopted conventions — mail, news, gopher (an early, global information system without hyperlinks.) Somebody named a webserver ‘www’ and others followed suit. Interestingly, the Web’s very first home page did not use www, it used info.
The Web’s http protocol has gained dominance over other Internet protocols and the Web’s conceptual framework is synonymous now with the Internet itself. Most organizations make their Web server the primary entry point into their information domain. Hosting companies do this by default for virtual hosting accounts.
Today, search powers the Web and the Web, for many organizations, is the primary means of delivering their service and promoting their brand. When someone wants to find information about You they are more likely to enter You in a search box, than to type your url into a location field. Mobile users really appreciate shorter URLs. And for audio content, the extra ten syllables are a pain.
Like ‘dubya’, ‘www’ should fade away.