URL Shorteners

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					Will Robertson - November 27, 2009 -

URL Shorteners
Overview URL Shorteners are companies that provide a way to create a short URL that redirects to any URL that the user inputs. These URLs can be easier to distribute and can provide additional data on usage and traffic. An example of this is: A Google Maps URL locating the Telfer School of Management: place?cid=7942715613901548727&q=uottawa%2Bottawa%2Bon Can be shortened using to this: Benefits of URL Shortening
Ease of Use

Dynamic web applications tend to pass a number of parameters through URLs to locate specific pages and information. These URLs can become extremely long can be hard or impossible to share through a variety of communication methods. Some e-mail programs tend to break long URLs are line-breaks, causing the link to become unclickable and not user friendly. Long URLs can be too long for character restricted communications such as SMS text messages or web services such as Twitter. In print materials, often URLs can be too long to expect a reader to manually type in. Short URLs provide a shorter alternative.
Web Analytics Data

Many URL shortening services provide the usage data on the clicks that every shortened URL receives. This data can extend a company's web analytics reach onto third-party websites such as Twitter or Facebook. The information these services provides often includes the number of clicks, the precise time of each

click, the referring page, any mention of the link on popular social media websites, and the geographic location of anyone clicking the link.1 Example of URL Shorteners There are many companies providing URL shortening services, including some open source code for creating your own service. Here is a table listing some popular services:
Shortener URL and Key Feature(s) Twitter's default URL shortener. Detailed click data in real-time Paid service to use your own domain name instead of the domain Frames the destination page with a toolbar at the top for sharing of the link A site specific shortener for any blog hosted on Created controversy when they announced they were planning to shut down, leaving millions of links broken

TinyURL One of the original URL shorteners HootSuite WordPress Nambu Network

How a URL is Shortened Many URL shorteners have purchased the shortest domain names that they can find, often using country specific top-level domains such a Libya's ".ly" or the Isle of Man's ".im". Using the shortest domain name possible achieves the goal of having very few characters in the URL. When a user generates a short URL, the service creates a link by adding a random generated key of characters, for example: 5L1al6, 1MOeDy, or 2rVgJ4. These keys are often case sensitive and contain letters and numbers to offer the greatest number of combinations in the fewest characters. Some services allow you to specific your own key, to give it some descriptive title, instead of a random combination of characters. The URL shortener then creates a 301-redirect from the new short URL to the original destination URL. The 3 in this type of redirect instructs the browser or

search engine to go to the specified URL and the 01 tells the browser or search engine that the redirection is not temporary.2 Criticisms of URL Shorteners There are several very strong criticisms of the use of URL shorteners. First is the risk of the service changing the short URLs to a different page after you have already shared and published them. Any of these URL shorteners could easily hijack all of the URLs that they shorten and redirect them to malicious webpages or pages filled with advertisements. A second criticism is related to the hijacking of URLs. If a shortener goes out of business all of the links will no longer be properly forwarded. This is known as linkrot. A shortener going out of business could enable another person to purchase the domain name and redirect the already published URLs to their own pages.3 The final criticism is that short URLs can be used to easily spread spam, malicious links, or the wrong pages. When a user clicks a short URL they are blindly clicking to an unknown page, which could be something very different than what they are expecting. Short URLs can also be used to bypass filters that attempt to protect users from known malicious sites.4 Business Model The business model for URL shorteners varies among the companies offering the service. Some use a subscription and licensing business models, such as, licensing their shortening services to custom domain names at a yearly fee. Other shorteners use the infomediary business model, providing more in-depth web analytic data for a fee. URL shorteners are a strange services, however they can be extremely valuable to companies marketing on the web, and in particular on the social media website Twitter. Knowing where your links are being shared and who is clicking on them is valuable information, so valuable that URL shorteners have found a way to make a business of it. References [1] About - Metrics

[2] WebConfs: How to redirect a web page, 301 Redirects [3] Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox: Fighting Linkrot [4] Web Pro News: Short URL Spam a Big Threat in August

Description: An article I wrote on URL Shorteners for the course E-business (ADM 3378) at the Telfer School of Management.