By David Strom
If you use a service to shorten Web links such as TinyURL, you might want to rethink your strategy and perhaps look to another service provider. Why? Because lately TinyURL has gotten too popular, thanks to Twitter using the service to condense long links into more manageable lengths that can fit into their 140 character limits, among other uses. As with many things on the Interwebs, the price of popularity is outages, what some would call being Slashdotted, after the Web site that can direct thousands of readers towards an article in a click of a mouse. And apparently TinyURL has suffered from a regular series of outages, whether due to popularity or poor IT planning, I can’t say.
TinyURL isn’t the only URL shortener, but perhaps the oldest and most well known. In an informal survey of people on my LinkedIn group, it was by far the one of choice. Most people were not aware of any downtime with the service, which isn’t surprising because unlike IM or email services that we pretty much depend on throughout the day, URL shorteners don’t report their status immediately, and usually not to the people who have created and posted the shorter links. The only way someone would find out if it wasn’t working was to click on all of their shortened links and make sure that they are directed to the appropriate page.
So there are several issues here. First is the usage of these services from a general sense: they can obscure malware or exploits and they create a dependency that can increase link rot if they break. One of my correspondents alternates his shortened links with two different services, to at least cover the possibility of a single point of failure.
But the second issue is that why should anyone continue using an unreliable service, and one that will continue to get more popular as more people get comfortable with Twitter and similar services? It seems like now is a good time to consider alternatives to TinyURL, which is the subject of an article last week in by Marshall Kirkpatrtick in the ReadWriteWeb. There are probably thousands of such services, and here is a link to a series of them from Chris Messina: http://www.flickr.com/photos/factoryjoe/sets/72157602178338004/
The service notlong has a list of others, along with a more detailed comparison of their own (at notlong.com/links). What is interesting about their service is that you can have a subdomain, such as webinformant.notlong.com, that will point to your link.
Marshall recommends the bit.ly service, which was also mentioned by some of my correspondents. The only issue I have with it is the dot “ly” domain belongs to Libya, and while the relationship between any domain owner and the Libyan government is small to none, it still makes me somewhat uncomfortable to work with someone that may get themselves on the State Department watch list. Another service that has come highly recommended is SNURL.com, which is also easy to remember and has some nice features. Google has a service call shorter that you can load on your own Web site, provided you have php support (code.google.com/p/shorter).
Good luck with whatever service you use, and let me know your recommendations or better yet, post them to my Strominator.com blog entry.