A few weeks ago, the Guardian newspaper switched from guardian.co.uk to theguardian.com as part of the paper re–branding itself as a global media outlet.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with them changing their TLD. As a user of their site it doesn’t make much difference to me how the URL ends – address autocompletion in Chrome means I don’t have to remember. The problem is they also added a “the”.
How unique the beginning of your URL is matters because it means less characters to type. Consider the webcomic xkcd – thanks to my browsing history, my Chrome omnibox automatically suggests it after only typing “x”. I don’t think I visit another site beginning with x. At the very worst, if I were to start frequenting another site beginning with x, I might have to type “xk”, which is almost guaranteed to be unique – a good choice by Randall Munroe.
If the website in question has a more generic name, a good mitigation technique is to have multiple entry points. Going back to the Guardian for example, the old guardian.co.uk URL still works, meaning I can type “gu” to access the site, rather than compete with other websites beginning with “the”. On it’s own “g” for me returns gmail.com – despite the canonical URL is mail.google.com. Typing “gmail” is habit for me, but it also helps against collisions with URLs beginning with “mail”.
I find myself using non-canonical URLs like that a lot, particularly for google services. I use music.google.com (“mu”), calendar.google.com (“ca”) and analytics.google.com (“an”) instead of play.google.com/music, google.com/calendar and google.com/analytics, respectively.
Out of interest, I went through my keyboard to see which site is suggested for each single character. I only had two sites bound to number keys – 127.0.0.1 and 24ways.org. I also had nothing in my browser for q – I guess if you want to be smart about your startup’s omnibox URL autocompletion, you should register a domain beginning with 0, 3—9 or q.
Edit: There’s some great discussion of this article going on over at Hacker News.