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Ushering In a Whole New Era of Linking Questions

Tr.im Decides to Continue On

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Update: Tr.im has apparently had a change of heart, and decided to remain functional. On the company blog, Tr.im’s founder says:

We have restored tr.im, and re-opened its website. We have been absolutely overwhelmed by the popular response, and the countless public and private appeals I have received to keep tr.im alive.

We have answered those pleas. Nambu will keep tr.im operating going forward, indefinitely, while we continue to consider our options in regards to tr.im’s future.

Either way, Tr.im has managed to bring a seemingly important subject into the spotlight, and it is still one worth thinking about.

Original Article: Shortened URLs come in quite handy when you want to share a link, but the URL is simply too long. Twitter’s rise to popularity has carried the popularity of such services right up with it. Naturally, when you have a 140-character limit, such a tool becomes much more in-demand.

Over the weekend, URL shortening service Tr.im announced that it was closing down shop. This is by no means the most popular service of its kind. But the big story here is not that we’re losing Tr.im. It’s that the idea of losing Tr.im brings up a much broader issue in what happens to all of those shortened URLs?

Tr.im

Tell WebProNews readers what you think about the situation.

"When these services go away, tens of thousands of links on the web simply stop working," says Mashable’s Pete Cashmore. "Some sites will lose hundreds of inbound links, and the traffic that comes with them."

"If Tr.im shuts down its servers, millions of links will simply die," says Mashable’s Ben Parr separately. "Poof, just like that. Someone could even buy Tr.im and redirect all the links to spam, porn, or malware."

Tr.im says in its announcement that all of its URLs will continue to redirect until December 31. Parr thinks someone will buy Tr.im before the end of the year. Bit.ly, Twitter’s go-to shortener has a project called 301works, (which archives URLs) told the publication that they offered to host Tr.im’s URL mappings, but it is not clear yet if anything will come of that.

301Works.com

But once again, the issue lies on a much larger plane than that of Tr.im. If more of these sites fail for any reason or get hacked, the web could turn into link bedlam. "Millions upon millions of links could suddenly vanish, leaving users confused and a possibly uncleanable mess," says Parr.

How Big is the Problem Really?

Or perhaps we’re sensationalizing this a little bit. There’s no question that there are many, many shortened URLs out there in circulation, but if they all stopped working, what would happen? Let’s look at where they’re being used – Twitter. In a hypothetic scenario where no URL shortening service works any longer, people will stop using them from that point on. That eliminates the further spread of problem-links.

Twitter Status Update

That leaves you with all of the ones out there that people have posted in the past. That means while they are out there to be clicked on, they will become more and more buried as time goes on. Twitter Search is after all about what is happening "right now."

I don’t mean to play down the issue too much. It is definitely an issue, and there would still be some hiccups experienced by many webmasters. Twitter does drive a lot of traffic for a lot of people. But most of that traffic I would guess comes from fresh tweets, rather than tweets that are days or weeks old that would carry broken links.

I fully acknowledge that Twitter is not the only source of URL shortened-links, but it is easily the largest. Links could stop working at many places around the web, but it’s not going to be a mass web apocalypse. Google results aren’t going to stop offering legitimate links.

Is the 140-Character Limit Bad for the Web?

If anything, the issue casts yet another shadow of vulnerability on Twitter, and at a time when it has already received mass media attention over a Denial-of-Service attack. Without functioning links, Twitter becomes a lot less useful for many users. Does Twitter want to depend on third party services for such functionality as it continues to grow? Is rethinking the 140-character limit in order?

Twitter does have a relationship with Bit.ly, which is alive and well, but maybe Twitter just needs its own such service, just so it (or its users at least) doesn’t have to rely on others. But what would happen to all of those if Twitter had its own shortener? Without such high demand, would they continue to thrive? If not, they could add to the problem with that many more compromised links.

I don’t know. I don’t claim to have the answers. The whole thing does raise some important questions about the web though. If Twitter is to become a long-term major player in communication on the web, some things are going to need to be addressed. Any thoughts on the situation? Please share them.

Ushering In a Whole New Era of Linking Questions
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  • Joe

    The more I use Twitter, the stupider it gets.

    • http://www.attorneysokay.com Steve

      It is starting to bring in traffic to my websites so I see it as a plus. It also has great potential with marketing products and services to the public.

  • http://www.attorneysokay.com Steve

    Companies spring up, companies fold.

    I think it would be great that some other company to buy them and continue to host the service, but if it does not, then I think they should hold onto the domain for the next 10 years and just let it sit with a holding page so that nobody can buy the domain say a year later and host malware, spam, scam, scare, or any other pages.

    This is why content management is key. Who knows what the long url was 1,000 links you made ago? There needs to be in place a way to put the original url’s back on the page. So far it’s only one way.

    Perhaps people could persuade them to say if money was involved. I mean how many people would pay something like $19.95/yr to have a service like this? Millions, I’m guessing. I would be one of them. It makes your life so much easier when giving somebody a url over the phone, or to remember if you don’t have a pen or other device to record it. I might type fast (48wpm), but the shorter the url’s the less I have to type. Really makes things easier on me. How about you?

  • http://hubpages.com/profile/dame+scribe Gin

    I quite agree that the links shouldn’t be dropped due to troubles at the office after spending time building the business of inviting people to use their services. Yes, hold onto the domain or charge enough to cover expenses but don’t let the existing customers down. Besides, they would be a additional name to list as a ‘short url’ provider for how many blogs out there. :)

  • http://www.ericward.com EricW

    Use your own .htaccess file and a 301 and do it yourself, like this…

    http://www.ericward.com/8609.html

    resolves to

    http://www.ericward.com/bestpractices/2009/08/linkmoses-resurrected-4-picking-right.html

    While none of us can control 100% how others pass along our URLs, we can control how we ourselves do it :)

    -Eric

  • http://www.couponsaver.org/ Dave S. Stack Promo codes

    I further attest to that. This linking makes visitors visit more than the usual thing. I tried to make a lot of backlinks on my site. And guess what, my visitors double. yehey.

  • http://www.centralhome.com Dance

    I am wondering why twitter uses a url shortening service. Your tweet plus your link (before shortening) can not be more than 140 characters. It’s not like your tweet can be longer because they shorten the URL. Does it save that much disk space? If your URL is more than 140 characters, it’s time to rethink your naming convention.

    I have had a few people look at my twitter and ask “what is that bitly?” They wouldn’t click on the link either because it didn’t look like a website address or because they weren’t sure where it was taking them. Most people have been trained not to click on a link if they’re not sure where it leads to. If bit.ly could change to bit.com or tr.im to trim.com it may help. Or better yet, why not display your shortened URL as ‘link’? This is shorter than bitly URL.

    So why does twitter use short urls? To annoy us, confuse us or to stop us from putting links in our tweets? But the web is built on links; without links to further info, half the tweets wouldn’t make sense. Even a shortened URL like EricW posted will get bitlied in twitter. Am I missing the point on short URLs?

    http://twitter.com/centralhome

  • http://officialsaftyandsecurity.com Official Safety and Security

    I used a url shortening service for one of my safety and security web site urls and when I clicked on it some time later, it took me to a porn site. I abruptly stopped shortening any urls. I don’t know what happened but I can’t take the chance of it happening again. Thanks, Chris.

  • Ian

    The future of the internet is more tied to phone apps and closed systems like Facebook. URL’s are legacy items that Twitter and others will soon program around. Short URLs are not important to users, only to the marketers and companies that sell with them. Youtube will still work as before just by using standard links…the public doesn’t care enough to worry about it.

    Your point that many old link names will be hijacked by porn is highly likely, and would hasten the end of URLs for general use. People will simply switch to safer navigation through apps and programming, and away from browser-based internet usage.