URL shorteners, services that help take longer URLs (which can be over a hundred characters long) and transform them into manageable links that almost never exceed 20 characters. URL shorteners are not new -. But their popularity has skyrocketed with the rise of Twitter, which only allows for 140 characters in any message.
In an article this week, Delicious founder Joshua Schachter made some very compelling arguments for why URL shorteners might be bad for the web. However, I want to make some points for the opposite argument: that URL shorteners are good for web culture and the growth of the Internet. Here are my top five reasons for why URL shorteners are useful to the web:
What is easier to share?
No, not all of the web's links are that messy. However, many links are long and wordy for SEO reasons. SEO, or search engine optimization, is about ranking higher in Google, and one of the factors Google and other search engines consider are keywords in the URL. This creates a conundrum for the user - the URLs help describe the content, but are lengthy and are not easy to share on emails, web pages, and especially social media services like Facebook and Twitter.
URL shorteners help solve the problem of making links more manageable to share. And certain services, such as ➡.ws allows users to add keywords to describe the link.
One of the reasons that bit.ly has received so much attention lately is because of the comprehensive data Bitly provides in the form of live click data, geographic location, the webpage the link where the link was clicked, and more. This type of information is invaluable to webmasters and companies - it shows where customers are coming from, when they are coming, and what interests them.
This type of information helps companies develop better products and webmasters produce more targeted content. Detailed information makes the economy more efficient.
There was a good piece on GigaOM that discussed how Bit.ly could launch its own version of Digg. While this may or may not be Bit.ly's eventual goal (just like Digg, a URL shortener could be gamed), it's clear that the data that URL shorteners can accumulate, coupled with the rise of short URL sharing on Twitter and other websites, could amount to some innovative social media services that display popular links, rank domains, and act as a filter or aggregate of social media content.
URL shorteners, in their own way, work as aggregates of information. This can lead to some useful mashups and innovations in how people share and digest content.
A new URL shortener, Pagetweet, caught my eye. It's a little more complicated than other URL shorteners (I don't understand why it requires a security code), but when you look at an actual page via Pagetweet, it provides a useful interface for sharing via social media, seeing the number of views, and more.
Because it's so easy for companies to enter this space, innovations are constantly being made that improve the user experience. Digg recently launched a DiggBar and Digg URL shortener, which provides information on the number of Diggs and comments any article has received. This is only the beginning.
Users also have a choice - they can follow links that will provide features, or simply choose ones with only the necessary functionality to get them to a web page. All in all though, URL shorteners can improve the browsing experience.
You can simply fit more links and content in less space with URL shorteners. A tweet can describe and then link to a webpage in under 140 characters, while a full URL might not even come with an explanation.
Even more important is the rise of mobile smartphones, texting, and mobile Internet - it's far easier to text in a short URL than a long one. As Twitter, social media, and mobile Internet become more popular, the need to make sharing web content easier will increase. Shorter URLs are becoming more and more integral to that cause.