At least in spoken form we no longer have to explain who “Earl” is.

But still, the fundamental element of the web (which to be understood we used to have to name as “The World Wide Web”) on what is now the more common platform of access, is becoming harder to even find.

It’s worth remembering the original definition:

URI: Uniform Resource Identifier. A kind of “address” that is unique and used to identify to each resource on the web. It is also commonly called a URL.

Web addresses are unique and used to identify resources.

Or are they?

I sheepishly admit that in moments of Phone gazing, I do use the iOS News app, knowing full well, somewhere, my choices are noted in some database cell. You can use it to read opposing sources, as what happens when New York Times stories come in adjacent to Fox news ones.

But here is the irksome thing about content in the News app. They come from URLs. I know it. But take a few minutes. See if you can actually locate that unique and identifying address.

For example, I read this Vox story today (and no I have not seen the new movie, I read right past the spoiler alert)

A story as seen in the iOS News app. It sure looks like a web page. What’s the URL, Earl?

If I opt to share it, say bye emailing it, well to myself, I get:

Ah, there it is, a link in email. Hallo, Earl?

Yup, it’s

And here is where the whole premise for my post falls on its butt. You see, I remember trying this a year ago, and the link I got just re-routed me back to the news app. But in my browser, darned if I don’t land on the real web link. I should quit blogging.

I thought I was making a case that Apple kept us locked un their universe. Well, maybe on the device it does, because that link does send you to the News App. So at least on the iPhone you cannot discover the real URL, Earl.

But there is a way, I can get the URL, Earl. I can use google search on “Vox Blade Runner 2049” and interesting what comes up…

Where’s the find? None of the titles match.

What’s interesting here is that the first link does go to the story, but the headline in Google Search results is “Blade Runner 2049 Spoilers: let’s talk about the Ryan Gosling twist” while the actual article title is “The best thing about Blade Runner 2049 is what it isn’t”

This means, on the mobile device, which apparently the majority of the web uses, wants to pull you in with words like “spoiler” and a celebrity name, and a hint of a secret.

This is exactly what I learned from Mike Caulfield:

Well, a little known fact about newspapers and other websites is they embed code in invisible HTML “meta” tags that provide different headlines to different platforms, when the content is shared. And if we look in those meta tags we see that someone at the Independent coded the false headline in the meta tags, even though they would never dare publish such a headline on their web site.

In the source, you can see that the titles of this article in social media (Facebook, twitter, and WTF is sailthru?) are the original title

Social media article titles coded in HTML meta data

The News app title is there in some JavaScript:

The title the Apple News app user is scripted, JavaScripted

Thanks Uncle Tim, for designing the web so that I can peek at the source. For now, at least.

And this URL in fact, is not the URL, Earl. It’s Cousin Amp

It takes dissection to yank the real URL out of that one (remove platform/amp/)

It’s not the URL I was looking for

That little link icon does expose the real URL… but you cannot do a thing with it. You cannot copy it. And then there is the fun little More Info info

Is this the info you want?

under the 3 dot menu:

The Viewer is a hybrid environment where Google and the third-party webmaster may each collect data about you. Data collection by Google is governed by Google’s privacy policy. Data collection by the third-party webmaster is governed by its privacy policy.

Was this info scary? Yes No

When did I opt into this data collection? When I opened my browser.

Hey, Earl, this stuff is messier and messier.

Featured Image: Shell Game in Berlin Wikimedia Commons photo by E.asphyx shared under a Creative Commons CC BY License

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. There is actually a shorter path. When I click on that “share” icon, if I slide over toward the end of the line, I eventually find an “Open in Safari” icon, which works as described, and then in Safari I can get at the real URL.

    In many ways, this shorter path still proves your point. The “open in Safari” icon is functionally hidden; there’s not a graphic indication I can see which would encourage you to scroll that icon bar to the side. (In fact, compared to some other apps, the icons in the News “share” row seem almost cunningly designed to not show a partial icon at the end of the line, like I see on some other apps.)

    Once you do get it in Safari, URLs are truncated at the domain level; you’d need to tap-and-hold to scroll through if you wanted to actually do something crazy like read the URL to find something like a publication date or content sections.

    As to whether we should expect those conventions to continue, well, we’re entirely at the mercy of Apple’s graphic design team. Which is why it’s always good not to be afraid to crack open the code.

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