More PURLs before swine

February 1, 2008

Johnson’s World by Steve Johnson

I began last month with a glossary of terms. Permit me, of necessity, to open this month with one more definition.

Blog is slang for Web log. It is the 21st century version of the old email list serve. It is essentially a diary, or log, posted for everyone to see. A blog may have just one writer or many contributors. Unlike posting your thoughts on a static Web page, a blog usually allows others to post comments for everyone to see.

By nature, blogs are less formal than most written works. Very few writers are paid for blogging, and it shows. On the other hand, if you have something brilliant to say, a blog is a good way to let the world discover your genius.

I don't have one, at least not for the moment. Who needs a blog when you've got “Johnson's World”?

Some have attempted to use blogging to manipulate, trying to pass off tightly scripted corporate public relations material as informal, impromptu ramblings.

The “blogosphere” reacts with indignation to the most egregious of these attempts but, in most cases, administers an even harsher punishment: It ignores the offenders completely.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled punditry.

A PURL lesson from the blogosphere

Last month I talked about PURLs and URLs, and the advantages and challenges of including them in variable-data printed materials vs. email. If you don't have last month's issue lying around, you can read it online at

See how well print and the Web work together?

Last summer, on a blog for print pundits, there was a posting about a botched PURL campaign, a PURL mailing in which the database was inaccurate. I've written about such things myself (see “Johnson's World,” May 2006).

In this particular story, the PURL on a direct mail piece didn't synch with the mailing address. The blogger received a postcard correctly addressed to him, but with a PURL intended for someone else printed on his postcard.

A PURL, after all, is just one more variable-data field. It could have been botched by the client or by the printer.

Let the ironies begin

The blogger, who was instructing us on the dangers and proper uses of PURLs in variable printing, is not a printer.

He edits what is essentially a collection of URLs, links to stories on his publication's Web site. Unfortunately, many of the links are wrong. Every day. And, they have been for years. No one has seen fit to complain or even notice. This must be the case, because the bad links just keep on coming.

This blogger observed, as I did last month, that a defective PURL probably never will be followed, and if printers are going to reap the benefits of PURLs, they had better get them right. I believe, and I'm sure he will agree, this means many of the URLs in his blog don't get followed, either.

Close analysis finds that the problem with blog postings distributed by email usually is one of two things: Either the publisher has spelled its own name incorrectly, or it has misspelled some very simple static coding.

In plain English: An email publication that serves only to disseminate information via links is filled with bad links. These mistakes are very careless, and the same mistakes have been repeated over and over again.

No, I'm not naming the blogger or the publication. My goal is not to embarrass anyone, and the blogger's points are quite valid. After all, he agrees with me, so he must be right.

The moral of the story is not that email is better than print or print is better than email. Our hapless blogger was the recipient of bad print even while he was the perpetrator of bad email. It could happen to any of us if we don't use sound practices, such as proofreading, testing and quality control.

Check your links!

PURLs are not going to save print, nor are they the death of print. URLs and PURLs are just more tools that, used properly, give us an edge over our competition.