The Web in the World – Looking for URLs Offline

By Bill Slawski

If you run a business, and own a web site, it’s not a bad idea to include the address of your site on your invoices, your business cards, within the letterhead of your stationary, and other paperwork that comes out of your office. You may even want to include that URL on shipping boxes, on your business sign, and in other places where the address might be visible.

Every few months, I like to take a walk through the small town I live in, with a pen and notepad in hand, and look for web addresses in places that I haven’t seen them before. On a normal day, I don’t think that I pay too much attention to how the Web and the world interact on a stroll through town, but I see some surprises when I start looking more closely.

My town is a University town, and most of the students are away on winter break, which made this morning quieter than it is when school is in session.

I start searching for URLs as soon as I get out of my front door, and the first one that I see is in a nearby parking lot. There’s a Marine recruiting station close by, and a number of recruiters’ cars in the lot. A number of them had written across their sides and back the Web address “” and “1-800-marines.”

As I walk past them, I decide to stop for a cup of coffee at one of the local coffee shops. Next to the credit card logos on the door of the shop is a small sign advertising a University meal plan. Students can pay for a card which they can use to buy food at different eating establishments in town, and these signs let them know which ones accept that meal card. It also acts as an advertisment for students, so that they can find out more about the program, and the URL is shown so that they can find out more about the service.

I grab the local paper while I’m getting my coffee, and start looking through it for Web addresses. A front page banner ad, below the fold, looks more like it was designed for a web portal than news print. Appropriately, it advertises a web site.

Turning through the pages of the newspaper, I’m starting to see ads that don’t carry a street address or a phone number – just a URL. I wonder how many of them are actually local businesses, and how many are located somewhere else. The advertisements are for items that could be anywhere in the world.

I finish looking through the paper, and and leave the coffee house onto Main Street, when a bus passes by. I expect a URL on the bus, and don’t see one. I’ve seen their schedules online, so I’m surprised that they don’t include their web address next to their name.

A sticker from a local band, pasted on a utility pole catches my attention, and it provides a URL for their MySpace page. Another sticker, sloppily attached to a mail pickup box a little further down the street is for the state National Guard, and shows their toll free phone number, but not a web address.

A sign at the post office provides a list of dates that the the office will be closed, but tells us that “We’re always open at” I’ve been wondering why they didn’t choose the name “”

A paper company truck is stopped on Main Street, to make a delivery, and the side of their truck is a billboard for their goods. Under the sentence where they tell us that they’ve been around since 1919 is the URL for their business.

As I return home, I notice that I’ve received my mail, and on the back of one of the envelopes, I see a message that I can pay my bills online, along with a URL. I’m not sure if I’ve seen a envelope with both web address, and a call to action like that before.

I think I’ve seen more URLs on this walk than I’ve seen in previous trips through town. There are a few on business signs, and on posters in store windows, and in notices posted on the community bulletin board. Next time I try this, I’m going to have to take my phone with me, and see how well those show up on a screen for handhelds.

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