Smart code words vs. long, annoying numbers

Written by Adrian Holovaty on July 3, 2002

As mentioned on E-Media Tidbits, the Spanish publication El Mercurio has begun including "Web codes" in its print edition classifieds. A Web code is a long number (e.g., 2011662) printed alongside a classified ad that you can enter into a form field on El Mercurio's Web site to get more information about the product -- like a nifty photo, detailed specifications, etc. -- that, clearly, wouldn't have fit in the newspaper.

It's a nice idea, but I think it the execution could be a bit better. Namely, who wants to remember random numbers? I'd rather be given an intuitive, descriptive, easily remembered code word. Something like "1996 chevy corvette" or "antique wooden table." That would make it much easier for me -- and it just might be easy enough to convince skeptical, or impatient, readers to use the system. (Yes, the numbered "Web code" system is relatively pain-free, too, but I think some people tend to shy away from large numbers. One glance at "2011662," and they might say, "To hell with it.")

It can be argued that if people are interested enough in the product, they'll do whatever it takes to get more information -- including scribbling long numerical codes. Yes, I agree. But for the casual browser, the process can be made much simpler by using easy code words.

(Isn't this why AOL's keywords are supposedly so successful?)

Thoughts? Have you ever seen something like this implemented on a site? Post a comment.


Posted by Sara on July 8, 2002, at 4:22 p.m.:

Users aren't scared of long numbers or codes. Almost all are familiar with cutting and pasting passwords for gift certificates sent to them, URLs for virtual crack or e-cards sent to them through e-mail. It's a common practice, and easy concept to follow. Code words, however, might only confuse things. What if there are two "1996 chevy corvettes" for sale? They'd have to be further distinguished. And, eventually, the code words can end up just as long as the ID number. People won't have to scribble down long code numbers, because this isn't a video game where cutting and pasting features aren't available. Browsers are equipped with simple cut and paste functions, which are probably more used than anything besides the Back button.

Posted by Adrian on July 8, 2002, at 7:56 p.m.:

I agree that cutting and pasting code numbers from e-mail messages into Web browsers is easy and convenient, but this doesn't apply to teases from a print newspaper. Good point about the two Chevy Corvettes, though -- the classified editors would have to think up a naming convention for duplicates. Off the top of my head, I'd suggest "1996 Chevy Corvette 1", "1996 Chevy Corvette 2", but those seemingly meaningless numbers kinda defeat the purpose of using keywords. Maybe "Red 1996 Chevy Corvette" vs. "Black 1996 Chevy Corvette"? There's bound to be a difference between classified ad products more often than not.

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