Why URL Shorteners Are Important

On May 21, 2009, in Comm, by Tac Anderson
bit.ly FAIL blowfish
Image by bpedro via Flickr

There’s probably hundreds of URL shorteners now. Seriously, I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. They’re really easy to build (there’s even a WordPress plugin that makes them out of your blog URL) and they are proving invaluable to content publishers. (NYT article on shorter URLs)

Tinyurl was the first shortener. It predates Twitter and was primarily used by IT guys who had to email those hideously long URL’s you get from large enterprise sites. Then with Twitter and other microblogging services the need to save those precious characters drove the advent of really short shorteners. But Bit.ly quickly changed all of that. Now URL shorteners offer the ability to get real time stats on the nemer of clicks, the number of times a link get’s re-shared and even the conversations that are happening around your link.

Bit.ly is still my favorite service. Here’s a bonus tip, you can hack any Bit.ly link someone else share’s to see the tracking metrics of that link. Take any Bit.ly link like this one http://bit.ly/9be3i and add info/ in the middle like so http://bit.ly/info/9be3i. (Note: Bit.ly has been upgrading their service so this may not work perfectly but you should be able to get the idea.)

Many people out there hate URL shorteners. Spammers use them to hide malicious or affiliate links. Another legitimate concern is what happens *when* some of these services start going under? The Web will be littered with hundreds, thousands or even millions of dead links.

I love URL shorteners and think they are going to be indispensable to content producers and marketers. URL shorteners enable you to track your content (via the link) wherever the Web stream takes it. You can track engagement, pass-along and .

I also think that since you know where your content ends up, URL shorteners will help solve the comment tracking/re-aggregation that plagues all of us bloggers. (That’s going to be a very messy problem however).

What do you think, do URL shorteners make the Web better or worse?

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  • After trying to use several popular URL shorteners, I decided to make my own. It is fast and clean, with simple stats -- http://go2.st

    Feel free to suggest new features and improvements (twitter: @haqu)
  • I too love url shortners for all the reasons you mentioned. I'd like to see more of your thoughts on the downside though. What if bit.ly did go under? Maybe I'm not smart enough but I don't see really how a url shortner can be monetized. Its a feature. Should a web service make a bet on which ones make it and integrate that service into its offering?

    Lots of time spent highlighting the broken business models of newspapers and other old school businesses. I think some more dialogue about the risks of betting on non-revenue generating web services and platforms is a worthy conversation as well.
  • You got it Dave. That's at least two blog posts worth of content. Look for more to follow.
  • Thinking about this over on FriendFeed. Here's my comment again for the unFF masses. (grin)

    I just had an inspiration. Imagine a 140 character link? Perhaps what we need instead of a short URL is a LONG ONE?! That way the entire link is the hook, line and sinker. There is simply not enough space in a short url to do anything but function as conduit to content. But a long url that includes the headline copy then allows for the branding AND the tracking in one simple link. Is there a tool out there that does this? Just like we are already doing in our webpages every day. Gimme!
  • Peggy, that's a very intriguing idea. I also just came across this post this morning where a guy encodes a picture of the mona lisa in 140 http://www.flickr.com/photos/quasimondo/3518306.... It's kind of the coders version of what you're talking about. Now you got me thinking, and that's dangerous :)
  • JenHarris
    At the very end of my Twitter workshops, I show Bit.ly. I show that there is proof now that SM does drive traffic to your corporate website (or small biz) & when your conversion rate increases you can give yourself a big ol pat on the back...thank you bit.ly!
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