Do you have your own URL shortening service? Because if you don't, you're totally not following the "in crowd.” Because everyone who's anyone is launching their own URL shortening service.
First, we had Google unleash their own last week (goo.gl). Google has this tendency to do quite well at most of the things they try, so I expect to see this service used by quite a few people. The coolest thing about the URL shortening service from Google is the customization options. Businesses (and individuals, for that matter) can create their own branded short URLs (such as Jere.my, for instance).
We also saw Facebook release a URL shortening service (fb.me) about the same time as Google.
Now comes word that YouTube has launched one as well, (called youtu.be). This will help you share your videos on Twitter, and they're claiming that it will only function for YouTube video links—meaning you can't get tricked by spammers disguising a link. You can, of course, still get RickRolled.
Great. Wonderful. Soon every link will be obscured by a "pseudonym" of sorts. Can't wait for that.
If it's not evident by now, I want to tell you about how silly all this seems to be. Let's start with the main reason people use URL shortening services these days: Twitter.
Because Twitter chose 140 characters to be their limit—somewhat arbitrarily, if you ask me—then users are limited to characters they can send. Traditional URLs are long, and took up too many characters, so the use of a shortening service allowed more room for commentary.
Now, maybe this is more of a rant on Twitter itself than on URL shortening services, but isn't it just a bit crazy to have all these shortening services cropping up just so we can Twitter out links to each other? I mean, maybe Twitter should consider increasing the character limit. I know that's blasphemy to some of you, but the truth is that people get around the 140 character limit every day by simply sending multiple tweets in a row—which is actually more work than sending one longer post would be. Or maybe users should stop sending links via Twitter and go back to sending their thoughts and their answers to "what are you doing now?”
There are more reasons behind my distaste for URL shortening services. The granddaddy of them all is security. I hate not knowing what link I'm clicking on. I hate having to trust someone to send me to a real link instead of a virus-laden page or some piece of malware. And I don't have a ton of excess trust for the citizens of the Internet.
You know who else hates URL shortening services? Your boss, together with your IT director. Because they can't know if you're going to infect the office network or not.
One of the most highly touted benefits to link shortening services is the analytics side of things. "We can learn so much about who's linking to whom!!!” Yeah, I guess. Except they're not actually linking to the source anymore, they're linking to Bitly or TinyUrl or whatever. Why are we so anxious to put an extra layer in between our links and our sources? Just to get some analytics data? Is it really worth completely diluting our keywords and SEO work and anchor text? (Isn't it also kind of the opposite of efficiency to go and spend time recreating a link you've already created?)
Don't get me wrong. I understand that links are the holy grail of search rankings, and that understanding how they are shared and work might go a long way toward knowing how to get more links. I'm certain that YouTube wants to harness the Twitter-based links about their videos in order to leverage data on real time popularity.
But what good does it do for Bit.ly to tell us how links are being passed, if those links are hidden behind Twitter's no-follow iron curtain? Sure, some shortening services pass link juice, but Twitter doesn't. And wasn't Twitter one of the big reasons we've seen this explosion of shortening services in the first place?
Oh, and I'd also like to point out how useless the analytic data is going to be now that we have a dozen major players in the game. They're all going to essentially be Alexa—publishing data about links that no one trusts because the data sample is too small a piece of the whole. Which means the data will be meaningless.
We should be asking what's in it for them? Why are so many entities vying to be the king of free shortened URLs? Remember when Digg released theirs, and a few hours later everyone realized it was a play to get more pageviews? What's the motivation for Google or YouTube or Facebook to get your URL shortening business? That's the real question. Something tells me it has to do with more advertising dollars for somebody who is not me, but that's just a hunch… a very accurate hunch.
If link shortening services are here to stay—and let me repeat that I hope they are not—then I am at least impressed with the ability of YouTube's to block all non-video links from being used, which helps make that service much more trustworthy. And I like that Google is going to help people brand their shortened links… that's actually really cool. I'm also intrigued by the promise of eventual real time analytics data on viral trends, even as I'm skeptical as to the accuracy of said data.
With all the tech giants getting into the arena, and analytics and security issues being addressed, I guess you could say we're in the Golden Age of URL shortening services. I'm guessing many of you will take advantage of YouTube's offering, and I'll be curious to hear your thoughts after using it.
What URL shortening service do you use? Which of these new offerings is the most appealing to you, and why? I would definitely like to hear your thoughts on the matter.