To tinyurl or to tr.im, that is the question …

Dinosaur that I am, it never occurred to me that long URLs were a major problem.  Sure, I’d gotten lots that were broken, particularly after going through Web-based mailing lists.  But you could generally put them back together again with a few mouse clicks.  So what?

So the fact that there were actually sites that would allow you to proactively pre-empt the problem, by shortening the URL, came as a surprise.  What was even more of a surprise was that there were lots of them.  Go ahead.  Do a search on “+shorten +url” and see what you get.  Thousands.  http://bit.ly/ http://tubeurl.com/ http://www.shortenurl.com/index.php http://urlzoom.org/ http://ayuurl.com/ http://urlsnip.com/ http://url.co.uk/ http://metamark.net/ http://8ez.com/ http://notlong.com/ http://shorten.ws/ http://myurl.si/ http://dwindle.me/ http://nuurl.us/ http://myurlpro.com/ http://2url.org/ http://tiny.cc/

I would not, by the way, advise visiting that last.  .cc is a domain used by those on the dark side.  In fact, I wouldn’t recommend visiting many of those: I have no idea where they came from, except that a search pops them up.  Which is part of the point.

Are URL shorteners a good thing?  Joshua Schachter says no.  Therefore, in opposition, Ben Parr says yes.  There are legitimate points to be made on both sides.  They add complexity to the process.  (Shorteners aren’t shorteners: they are redirectors.)  They make it easier to tweet (and marginally easier to email).  They disguise spam.  Some of the sites give you link use data.  They create another failure point.  They hide the fact that most Twitter users are, in fact, posting exactly the same link as 49,000 other Twitter users.

URL shorteners/redirectors are going to be used: that is a given.  Now that they here, they are not going away.  Those of pure heart and altruistic (or, at least, monetary only) motive will provide the services, have reasonable respect for privacy, and add functions such as those providing link use data to the originator (and, possibly, user).  A number of the sites will be set up to install malware on the originator’s machine, to preferentially try to break the Websites identified, to mine and cross-corelate URL and use data, and to redirect users to malicious sites.

If you are going to use them (and you are, I can tell), then choose wisely, grasshopper.  There are lots to choose from.  Choose sites that offer preview capabilities.  If someone doesn’t use the preview options, you can still add them.  http://tinyurl.com/a-short-url-that-expands is the same as http://preview.tinyurl.com/a-short-url-that-expands : you just have to add the “preview.” part.  http://is.gd/ is even easier: just add a hyphen to the end of the shortened URL.  I’m hoping that one of the sites will start checking the database for already existing links, and returning the same “short form”: it’d make it easier to identify all the identical tweets.  (With the increasing use of the sites, it will also ensure that the hash space doesn’t expand too quickly, which would be to the advantage of the shortening sites.)

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  • http://insanesecurity.info dblackshell

    well tinyurl.com does provide always provide the same short form of an url…

  • Gary

    I think is.gd and tinyurl already re-use hashes for previously-shortened URLs. It makes all the sense in the world, from an app-design standpoint.

    How else can is.gd maintain a 4-character hash? :)

  • http://madduck.net martin f. krafft

    xrl.us also uses hashes and identifies duplicates.

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