URL Shorteners: Is a Custom One the Solution?
URL shortening, if you’re not aware, is a service that takes a looooooooong URL (e.g., like a huge one from Google Maps) and turns it into a short one such as www.tinyurl.com/45hnf.
Now that Twitter is becoming so widely adopted — though has its 140 character message limit — the only way to author a good message and deliver a URL is usually with a shortened one.
Here’s the problem. Already I’ve found dead links from shortened URLs. Spammers are getting wise to using them to mask the end site they’re trying to get you to view. In addition, I went to a resource site this week which had every single link a shortened URL!
Concerns have been raised by many people that shortened URLs are weak links that are undermining the integrity of the Web itself (e.g., here and here). To illustrate how pervasive these services have become, well over a year ago Mashable published this post on 90+ URL shortening services! This shortening of URLs process has become laughingly easy for all of us and there are too many uses (again, Twitter, SMS, etc.) where it’s a lot easier to use a shortened URL than a long one…so we all do it.
When voicing my concern about this to Kevin Gilbertson (creator of TinyURL), he assured me that these temporary and ethereal pointers to ‘real’ URLs were not going to “break the Web” but instead were providing a useful service (e.g., to email or Twitter users) where long URLs were a barrier and obstacle to providing others with links. He also pointed out that any publisher, creator of resources online, or those delivering high value which they wish to remain permanently available, are being imprudent if they don’t use the original URLs.
Good point. But is there even a better solution? How about a custom one?
Many URL shortening services are able to create custom ones for companies, media publishers and others. My friend, Garrick Van Buren, has a service called “Cullect” and he recently delivered a customized URL shortener for an online news organization, MinnPost, so I’ve observed how this can be a positive and be within the ultimate control of the organization itself. They ‘own’ both the original URL and the shortened one so they can maintain the integrity of the linking (disclaimer: another blog I participate in, Minnov8, is the technology contributor to MinnPost).
My recommendation to individual participants is to go ahead and use the URL shortening services, keeping in mind to link to the original URL (not use the shortened one) when creating more permanent pointers on a website, blog or social network. My advice to clients, especially those that have a need to deliver many links in a Twitter stream or through other means, to have a custom URL shortening service created for them so they own, maintain and ensure the integrity of the linking so the Web is not, as many fear, in jeopardy of being ripped apart.