There are a lot of pages out there on the web – and a lot of them have mighty long URLs. This poses a problem for web workers as we attempt to pass those URLs around via instant messages, Twitter, email, and phone calls: long URLs get misunderstood and misinterpreted in a variety of ways. Thus, the rise of the URL-shortening service – web sites designed to compress the URLs of other web sites.
One might think that this is a simple and easily-solved problem, but that’s not reckoning with either the cleverness of developers or the number of ways that a niche market can be split up. Here’s a list of eight different URL-shorteners, each with their own special features.
- TinyURL – The father of them all (at least, so far as I know) and still going strong. No special features, but it’s been around and reliable for a long time now. Includes a bookmarklet for easy browser use.
- is.gd – If you have trouble remembering addresses, this is as short as they come. Besides a bookmarket, is.gd includes a preview feature: append a hyphen to the end of any is.gd link, and you’ll go to a page on the is.gd site telling you where the redirection points. This is useful if you don’t quite trust the person sending you the shorter link.
- urlTea – This one includes a couple of nice touches. For starters, the shortened link ends up on the clipboard, saving you an operation. You can also talk to it via Google Talk at firstname.lastname@example.org and get your shorter links that way, use their API, and add your own arbitrary descriptive text to shortened links.
- SnipUrl – This one edges past “shortener” and towards “social network”, with its ability to browse through the snips that everyone else has used the service for. You can also subscribe to get interesting snippings in your email or subscribe to their RSS feed.
- doiop – One of several URL-shorteners that lets you choose your own alias, rather than getting an arbitrary link assigned to you. That’s it; otherwise, there are no bells and whistles here at all.
- 301url – This one lets you assign your own alias (so you can have http://www.301url.com/wombats as long as no one else has taken it), but beyond that it also tags forwarded links with a 301 redirect. This makes them more useful in cases where you want to be sure search engines ultimately end up at your own page instead of some URL-shortening service.
- twittums – In addition to shortening links and providing an API that hands back details in an XML file, this one hooks into snap to capture image previews of the sites you link. So when you shrink a URL, you get your choice of regular link, bbcoded link, or link with an image preview to post.
- Shorty – If you’ve got the technical chops (as well as a server, PHP, MySQL, and Apache), you can download and install Shorty, and run your own URL-shortening service. This is more effort than any other alternative, but lessens any worry about the service you’re using going under (as several have in recent months).
These eight services cover the spectrum pretty well – I think. But there are a lot more than eight URL-shorteners out there. If you’ve got your own favorite, with features not handled by this list, tell us about it in the comments!