More News in the URL Shortener Market
Back in October I commented how the list of URL shorteners has gotten even shorter (or shortener, as I liked to call it). As bit.ly rose to the top thanks to Twitter, Tr.im and Cli.gs called it quits. Things have changed a bit since then.
Recap and Updates
Tr.im took back its statement of impending doom when the blog was overrun with support, was approached with an offer from bit.ly (which they declined), announced it was going open source three months ago, and has been silent since.
On December 1, Cli.gs was acquired by Mister Wong, and continues to provide its URL redirecting/forwarding service. What else it will ultimately provide is anyone’s guess.
The market for shorteners is not dead, however. The argument can be made that bit.ly survived simply because Twitter standardized on its platform for tweets, known for their 140 character limit. Some of the big boys now have an interest in this game, and have considerably more resources to bring to bear to bolster what might otherwise be a losing proposition.
Yesterday Google announced its own URL shortener, Goo.gl. In this case, it is not a stand-alone service, it can only be used from the Google Toolbar (for your web browser) or from FeedBurner (their RSS aggregator). They do not exclude the possibility of opening it up to wider use in the future. Google claims the service will provide stability (big fat data centers), speed (big fast data centers), and security (URLs will be sniffed to look for spam/malicious sites).
If you think Google was ahead of the curve, you’re wrong. They were responding to Facebook. Facebook announced yesterday that it was testing its own shortener, fb.me. While Facebook cites the change as a way to stay more open and connected, they are interested in the analytics data they can glean if they own it. Facebook is also smart enough to make sure existing links, such as http://www.facebook.com/aroselli, will work at the new address, http://fb.me/aroselli (it’s worth noting that you need to be my FB friend for these links to work — sorry). Right now Facebook is using this feature to automatically shorten URLs shown in the mobile interface.
But the day didn’t end there. Bit.ly decided they, too, had an announcement to make for their new bit.ly Pro service. Because bit.ly has traction already with its analytics service, because it’s integrated with Twitter, and because it’s a stand-alone service, bit.ly doesn’t need to worry too much about losing its position just yet. This move, however, entrenches it laterally. They have partnered with AOL, Associated Content, Bing, Clicker, The Daily Telegraph, foursquare, GDGT, Hot Potato, The Huffington Post, IGN, kickstarter, Meebo, MSN, /Message (Stowe Boyd), MTV Networks, The New York Times, OMGPOP, oneforty.com, The Onion, slideshare, someecards, Stocktwits, TechCrunch, The Wall Street Journal Digital Network and blogger Baratunde Thurston (baratunde.com). The example they give is nyti.ms. The example I have already seen out there is Foursquare, which you may have seen in updates from friends. My recent check-in came through in my tweet as 4sq.com/8XoZwz. Just in case you don’t believe me, bit.ly provides the analytics on that link.
While all this develops, I still echo my concern about URL obfuscation and link rot. It’s too easy to hide the true destination of a link when you mask it using a shortener. Google may think it can defeat that, but I am suspect of that claim over the long term. Links may also go away, but the shortener doesn’t know it and may not pick up the redirection instructions before they are shut off. Over the next couple years we’ll see just how much link rot abounds on the web as we find ourselves constantly following shortened URLs to broken pages or porn sites.
I will repeat myself from my first post on this topic: If the Mayans had it right, this could be the End of Days we’re all expecting in 2012. Prepare yourselves for the Great Linkpocalypse.
Update: November 18, 2013
Update: YouTube has joined the fray with youtu.be as their shortener. Links like http://youtu.be/iDe4v318f64 will now get you directly to a video.