The Problem with URL Shorteners


One of the first things Twitter neophytes discover is URL shorteners, the free services such as TinyURL.com and bit.ly which shorten URLs and thus allow Twitter users to include lengthy Web links in their tweets. Since tweets are limited to no more than 140 characters and some links (like the ones found here on IT Business Edge) can exceed 100 characters, URL shorteners are pretty much a necessity for anyone who wants to share links on Twitter.


I routinely link to my blog posts and other content on Twitter, so I've been happily using these services without thinking much about them. Until the other day, that is, when I read a Silicon Valley Insider item pointing out that companies shouldn't view shortened links as permanent URL replacements.


Many of today's URL shorteners are run by small and modestly-funded startups, writes Insider's Dan Frommer. So there's a risk these companies could go under, and with them their services. It happened last weekend to a service called tr.im. URLs shortened via tr.im will now break, so companies concerned about visitors originating from tr.im links will need to go back and replace them. This could be a pretty arduous task depending on how often tr.im was used.


Frommer's good advice: Avoid using shortened URLs in documents or Web links unless absolutely necessary. Businesses who use lots of shortened links on Twitter or in other sources such as e-mail newsletters may want to invest in creating a custom short URL, as Flickr, TechCrunch and other prominent Web publishers have done. Even then, of course, a third-party provider tasked with creating the custom URL could go out of business. So, writes Frommer, "make sure you can move your account and data elsewhere, if necessary."


The problem of the small and modestly-funded startup is hardly a new one. Some folks have voiced similar viability concerns regarding SaaS providers, as I wrote earlier this year.