This Post's Headline Was Made Irrelevant by a URL Shortener

14 Comments

Facebook and Google both now have their own URL shorteners to help users share links that are short and simple. Facebook’s, fb.me, isn’t exactly rolled out yet, but it appears to automatically change facebook.com links when they appear in its mobile interface. Google, meanwhile, introduced goo.gl for its Toolbar and for sending feeds to Twitter through Feedburner, but says the product could be expanded.

The rise of URL shorteners can be entirely attributable to Twitter, whose strict character limits necessitated ways to share links without wasting space. Early on, Twitter used a pre-existing service, TinyURL, but in May it switched to Bit.ly, which is backed by Twitter shareholder Betaworks. Now, many content and social sites (including ours) offer their own short URLs as a convenience for users.

The hidden value of short URLs is that they are trackable, sending information back to the source about how web pages are shared and which ones are popular before they are resolved to the actual URL. A short URL is a lot slicker than a toolbar frame that follows a user when she clicks off-site, which is something Facebook had implemented about a year ago but has since phased out. The currency of today’s web is links, and that’s what these moves are about. Frankly, at this point, it’s weird that Twitter doesn’t own Bit.ly.

14 Comments

Phoneboy

As long as they include anti-spam measures, great. I’m just fed up with “shortened URLs” that are just hiding spam websites.

While they’re slightly different, I do remember sites like “hop.to” and “fly.to” (and dozens of others” that were meant to provide shortened URLs. They were just forwarding services, though, and weren’t tracking much.

Jeffrey L. Cohen

The funny thing about the catchy headline is that it is wrong. Both the headline (post title) and the page title are unaffected by URL shorteners. The only thing made “irrelevant” by them is the URL, which now has a redirect to make it easier to provide a link. Unless there is a different page title, most sharing programs that use URL shorteners to post content to Twitter and other social networks use the headline as a descriptor of the short URL.

Liz Gannes

@Jeffrey – But when people post to Twitter they don’t have to use my headline (and probably shouldn’t, since it’s 58 characters long). The shortened link itself is what gets passed around.

Brian

“The rise of URL shorteners can be entirely attributable to Twitter”

I’m not sure that’s actually the case.

Om Malik

Brian

Twitter’s 140 character limit is one of the main reasons why URL shorteners have taken off so yes, it is not off the mark to attribute the success of these services to Twitter.

I would love to know more on why you disagree.

Brian

Om, it’s more a concern over the use of ‘entirely’ rather than the overall idea that URL shorteners have exploded. URL shorteners pre-date Twitter, and while Twitter was coming of age, acceptable Internet-capable mobile devices also became ubiquitous… devices on which it really sucks to have to type out http://gigaom.com/2009/12/14/this-posts-headline-was-made-irrelevant-by-a-url-shortener/. There are also popular business and computer magazines that use short URLs to redirect to articles, and not because they want to make it easier for their readers to tweet about them.

So clearly Twitter has contributed heavily to the popularity of shorteners, but entirely?

Liz Gannes

@Brian – At one point it may have seemed like Mapquest URLs alone were reason enough for TinyURL’s existence. But whatever mainstream popularity they have now I think goes right back to Twitter.

YUvamani

TinyURL existed because email programs and im programs played havoc with long urls thanks to their many bugs.

Also they were a great way to verbally share url’s

Their mainstream popularity is mostly attributable to twitter.

JohnB

Not even just the use of “entirely” but the whole idea of “the rise of…” (or, the origination of) URL shorteners certainly can’t be credited to Twitter.

Like @YUvamani says, let’s stay with “mainstream popularity” or the recent explosion of use.

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