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Twitter and URL shortening will ruin the internet

Alex Christie

17 August 2009

URL shortening services are very new, only really entering the mainstream with twitter. If you use twitter you have used a lot of the shortening services out there, it all started with tinyURL, which was a simple tool that redirected a short URL to a long one. The concept has become more than just a way to make clumsy URL’s much smaller, there are loads of other services that the shorteners offer. A service called Tiny arro has the best URLs:  http://➡.ws/뾻ꎨ it uses the full unicode characterset and claims to have the smallest URL’s in the world, I believe them.

There has however been a lot of criticism of URL shortening. They add a lot of issues for SEO and users alike, it is basically an unneccessary step in an already cluttered and insanely busy gazillions of requests a second.

The only real need for URL shorteners is to support non HTML platforms like traditional text, SMS and other text based services where horrible URL’s cannot be hidden behind descriptive anchor text. When you use URL shortening services, there is a third party between the source and destination of these links, this is not exactly ideal as the third party is vulnerable to a number of threats like hackers and something called link rot, where domains expire and basically all of the links they used to redirect disappear.

A prime example of this is tr.im, one of the better services out there is discontinuing their redirections. There are potentially tens of millions of links that will dissappear from the linkscape when this site goes down. The forecast is that a lot the shortened URL services will at some point in their future stop operating, without an obvious method of monetisation, the timeline of these services is set to be short.

There have been some attempts to standardise the use and management of shortening services however I think the need of these standards is irrelevant. The primary motivator for these URL shortening servics is twitter. Twitter does not allow text anchors in their links, this is to enable the older mobile phones to use SMS to transmit tweets. (What phone browsers cannot parse HTML these days anyway?).

The simplest solution to the emerging URL shortening issues is to do your own redirection of short URLs, even with the same domain,

http://www.mylongdomainname.com/content/articles/set1/2009/July/How-to-tell-if-your-g.HTML

can be:

http://mylongdomainname.com/ixWd/

While it is still a fairly long domain name it is still manageable. It is unlikely that the barmy backwardness of plain URL links in twitter is set to last for very long. Maybe it is time for a twitterpetitor to raise its head out of the melee and solve all of our problems for us.

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