What is the point behind a URL shortening service? Why are there so many?

What is the point behind a URL shortening service? In essence, why is everyone using them and why are there so many? These were questions asked on TechCrunch, yesterday, by Ronald Tin, but not in so many words. My reply to him was as follow:

Ronald, the point of a URL shortening service is to have a short domain and URL, but that’s beside the point. The real reason behind URL shortening is to have an easy to remember or pass along URL. Instead of having – http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/04/19/now-even-the-new-york-times-is-entering-the-url-shortening-arena-kinda/#comment-2708504 – which you will never remember, or care to do so, you have http://tcrn.ch/Lk. Much easier to remember or tell someone about.

The whole URL shortening idea has split into two evolving concepts – money making thus the variety of sites offering this service; and content ownership. The later ensures, by owning the URL shortening service, that traffic from the short URL will never stop. If any of the other URL shortening services go down or close down what happens to traffic coming from all the places where those URL have been used/posted? It stops, which results in decline in SEO, page hits, ad impressions and clicks …. It also guarantees that whatever the URL the short URL is pointing to will not be changed by someone, thus stealing the traffic.

This is pretty much what my view of URL shorteners is. There might be something missing, so feel free to add in the comments below.

In general, I find URL shorteners annoying and a nuisance. I like to be able to see the URL, which I am about to visit. I also want to be sure that whenever I post a link to something that link will remain working , and anyone, who clicks on it, will not have to go through extra hoops, especially through one that might not be there some times or eventually. I am kind of bothered by how many services exist, because each has something I like about it and some times it can be hard to decide on which one to use. I suppose it all comes down to convenience. I am also sure that there will be more URL shortening services, like is.gd, tinyurl.com, cli.gs, bit.ly and many others, in the future. Variety can’t hurt, but over saturation does! When services can’t make enough to pay their bills they close, variety suffers, but so do users and the Internet.

Let me know your views on URL shorteners and which one is your choice in the comments below. Oh and here is a quick poll about preferred URL shortener(s).

[poll id=”7″]

4 responses to “What is the point behind a URL shortening service? Why are there so many?”

  1. Hi, a very interesting view point.

    I try my best not to use them, I have the same point as you of wanting to see where I am going and if the link is correct.

    When you click on the url, you have no idea where you are going until the page comes up, a bit scary for me sometimes.

    • Yeah, no more hovering over a link to see where it goes. It sucks, because with the ever expending propagation of social networks it becomes more difficult to avoid the use of mini URLs.

      The best option always remains operating personal URL shortner site, but how many people want to do that and how many suitable short domains are available? The answer to both questions, in my opinion, is – very few!

  2. I don’t use them on things like blog posts, but I find three places where they are helpful…

    1. In emails. Some email programs break up long URLs

    2. Twitter – character limitation

    3. In print (sometimes with the original address). Easier to type and less likely to make mistakes typing the URL.

    • Alan,

      Those are all good places where short URLs can be a valuable asset. In the past I often had broken links in emails I received. Although, it is more rare now-a-days, thanks to developers updating web based email clients. I can’t say that it no longer happens, but like I said it is rare. I probably had 2 broken in email links last year.

      As you pointed out, they are also useful with Twitter and other micro-blogging environments. BUT, I wish that Twitter provides an interface similar to the one Pownce had, which will allow you to shorten a URL on the spot instead of taking the extra steps to get a short URL. Now that Twitter has switched to bit.ly as the main URL shortener service, and both companies have the same investors, after reading speculations of merging/combining the two services, maybe it is time to make some changes to the user interface.

      As you said short URLs are useful in print. I have seen them, but I think they have decent competition from QR codes. At least out the US. Also, as I wrote in the post above, online publishers and media sites are starting to use them as well, although to me they are less valuable, appealing and meaningful as a URL. They are just a gateway.

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