January 15, 2013

Cool URLs Don’t Change


Even before Christian Heilmann (@codepo8) fired off his second tweet, I knew I had been caught: caught breaking one of the fundamental rules of the web-as-an-archive: Cool URLs Don’t Change.

It is a serious problem: letting your links lapse can break links across numerous web sites. It is particularly bad if the link is or was one that drew a fair bit of attention when it/they were first published, and here, I had committed exactly that sin.


Back around 2001, Derek Featherstone and I had established one of the earlier web accessibility consultancies around, based in Ottawa, Ontario. WATS.ca was established, in part, to solicit web accessibility work from the Canadian Federal Government, and Derek and I combined our forces to go after that work. We had a great time, we learned and taught a lot about web accessibility in those early days, and we managed to provide our services to a whole slew of Government of Canada departments and divisions. Two memorable contracts included working with the Canadian Space Agency, and getting a personal tour of the private law library at the Supreme Court of Canada (normally by appointment only to lawyers – and where we saw the oldest known law book in North America). We also were very active on the different accessibility lists and forums of the day, and we both contributed a number of articles to the field on our own site, which got noticed and linked to from some very unusual places.

Eventually however, it was time to wrap up WATS.ca, as Derek and I pursued other independent activities. The Canadian government web-masters were growing their own expertise in-house, and it was getting harder to solicit work from those venues. I continued to maintain the website for a few years more, but having moved to California it was becoming increasingly useless to try and maintain the WATS.ca site – and then the site started getting bombarded with SPAM. So I pulled the plug and let the domain name lapse: my bad.

I knew that there was still some value in a number of the posts we had written back then, and I had every intention of moving them to a new home (this blog), but, like many good intentions, I started but then let that project slip.

Which brings us to today:

[WATS.ca Archived]Christian was looking for some of the older resources we had written on the topic of AccessKeys. They were some of the more frequented articles on the WATS.ca site, but they were hidden from view. I made a lame attempt at recovery by finding them on the WayBack Machine but knew even then that it was weak, and that Chris had caught me red handed.

Anyway, I’ve now done something about that. The work is not complete, but at least the four articles that Chris was looking for have a new and hopefully more permanent home. And I need to finish this project I started.

AccessKeys (from the WATS.ca Archive)

Posted by John

I am a 16 year veteran of Web Accessibility, living and working in Austin, Texas. Currently Principal Accessibility Strategist at Deque Systems Inc., I have previously held accessibility related positions at JPMorgan Chase and Stanford University. I am also actively involved with the W3C - the international internet standards body - where I attempt to stir the pot, fight hard for accessibility on the web, and am currently co-chairing a subcommittee on the accessibility of media elements in HTML5.

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