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Taking URL Shortening Further
June 15, 2009 2:18 PM   Subscribe

There are few ways to make URL shortening any shorter, given the 90+ URL shortening sites available, unless you get tricky. Tinyarro.ws uses two tricks to further shorten URLs, and greatly expand the theoretical limit to short URLs: international domain names and unicode character encoding. [via mefi projects]

Though international domain names are widely supported, and the threat of IDN spoofs has passed, unicode domain names can get messy, as there can be display problems at the operating system level and browser level. Setting up unicode fonts can clear some of those problems, but the issue of URL shortening service longevity is still a concern, with shortened URLs in printed publications and not just tweets or IMs.
posted by filthy light thief (43 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
If Twitter had allowed the use of the anchor tag this never would've become such a problem.
posted by jedicus at 2:31 PM on June 15, 2009


http://➹.ws/較
posted by cloeburner at 2:37 PM on June 15, 2009


Self plug: I have created a Wordpress plugin to provide custom shortened permalinks on your own blog, which solves the problem of a third party host, but of course doesn't give you the full benefit of a tiny domain name. I find it's a nice compromise.

It also uses the short_url autodiscovery method, however short_url's uptake has been... slow to non-moving at best.
posted by zerolives at 2:42 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


If Twitter had allowed the use of the anchor tag this never would've become such a problem.

If SMS was longer than 140 characters, then Twitter would not have had the problem.
posted by mark242 at 2:46 PM on June 15, 2009


This is so damned stupid. bandwidth and storage space costs drop daily and yet the retard-onomics of twitter demand shorter and shorter URLs. Gah, incholate twitter hate!!!
posted by GuyZero at 2:47 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


-l
posted by GuyZero at 2:48 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ask Friedhelm Hillebrand why SMS is no longer than 140 characters. I guess twitter wasn't around at the point to be fair to the guy.
posted by Gravitus at 2:51 PM on June 15, 2009


errr yea 160 words. :)
posted by Gravitus at 2:54 PM on June 15, 2009


I just don't get why SMS is used. My phone (Japan) has had regular ole email for 8 or 9 years now. No fancy POP/SMTP/Hotmail/Gmail interface, just a regular SMS-like textbox into which I can put up to 12,000 characters, and another textbox where I enter the email address I wish to send to. I can send emails to anywhere I want, be that a PC, a server, another phone, whatever. And, likewise, I can receive emails from anywhere I want. It's just plain email. What advantage does SMS have over standard email?
posted by Bugbread at 3:00 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


My phone (Japan) has...

aka: My phone was designed in a country where we care more about functionality than sticking to 30-year-old technology standards designed when 640K was a lot of memory.
posted by GuyZero at 3:02 PM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


and...

What advantage does SMS have over standard email?

Over 30 years of infrastructure build-out in Europe.
posted by GuyZero at 3:02 PM on June 15, 2009


I really hate the way Twitter shortens URLs even when they happily fit into 140 characters. It just doesn't make any sense and imposes an unnecessary burden/limitation on both the site and users.
posted by malevolent at 3:08 PM on June 15, 2009


GuyZero:

Cool, thanks. I had no idea SMS was so historied. Japan never had GSM (that I know of), so we never had SMS in the first place.
posted by Bugbread at 3:14 PM on June 15, 2009


SO CUTE OMG. (It needed to be said.)
posted by munyeca at 3:26 PM on June 15, 2009


Yeah, but try conveying one of these shortened URLs while speaking: "Just go to cloverleaf symbol dot ws slash korean character."

I'd like an URL shortening service that would return URLs that are both short and easy to unambiguously say. Of course, people forgot about spoken URLs right off the bat, with WWW taking longer to say than "world wide web".
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:31 PM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


"aka: My phone was designed in a country where we care more about functionality than sticking to 30-year-old technology standards designed when 640K was a lot of memory."

Actually, more likely "my phone was designed in a country where the phone companies were so proprietary and guarded that coming up with a common standard was out of the question, so email was the only way to go".

posted by Bugbread at 3:36 PM on June 15, 2009


Note that I don't think that sticking so hard to the old GSM standards is a good thing: every piece of carrier equipment has been replaced multiple times since GSM was standardized. They've managed to create MMS and lots of other stuff in the meantime. I think they could have improved SMS if they cared, but it was more important not to disrupt the vast amounts of cash coming in a few euro-cents at a time.
posted by GuyZero at 3:37 PM on June 15, 2009


On a tangent thanks to twoleftfeet:

Why do people still use www? I always just type in "example.com" and it works fine.

On the topic:

This is cool, but how am I supposed to use this outside of a hyperlink?

"Just type in the command sign."
"I'm pressing command! Nothing's happening!"
posted by reductiondesign at 3:41 PM on June 15, 2009


If SMS was longer than 140 characters, then Twitter would not have had the problem.

But you can send SMSs longer than 140 characters. On every phone I've owned since before the invention of Twitter, anyway. If you type more than 140 characters, the phone silently splits them up into multiple messages, that get stuck back together into one message on the receiving end. Or is trick unique to Nokias?
posted by Jimbob at 3:42 PM on June 15, 2009


"Why do people still use www? I always just type in "example.com" and it works fine."

When you set up a server, you have to set up redirects, such that www.example.com and example.com point to the same place. I don't use "www" much either, except on Japanese sites, because Japanese corporations are horrible at setting up redirects. More than half the time, skipping the "www" will result in a 404 error message.
posted by Bugbread at 3:47 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


I can't believe they're wasting all that space on http:// or www.

Twitter should pick a symbol to mean "what follows is a hyperlink." You could even assign different symbols to different domains to save more space (i.e. ➥foo would be interpreted by Twitter as http://foo.com, while ➦bar/snafu would be interpreted as http://bar.org/snafu)

You could strip 9 characters out of http://➹.ws/較 and make it something like ➠➹/較.

Of course, the specific Unicode characters would be unusable for anything else on Twitter, but we're not exactly talking about universal accessability here anyway.
posted by designbot at 3:52 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Actually, better yet; why not just one symbol to represent a built-in URL shortening service provided by Twitter? You'd enter a full-length URL, and Twitter would change it to ➥較 or whatever. Then Twitter (and clients using their API) could display it as a link to the full-length URL.

The only downside would be that it wouldn't mean anything in a text message or email.
posted by designbot at 4:02 PM on June 15, 2009


The only downside would be that it wouldn't mean anything in a text message or email.

Thus lining up nicely with the text of the twitter message, which probably doesn't mean anything either.
posted by GuyZero at 4:39 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


On every phone I've owned since before the invention of Twitter, anyway. If you type more than 140 characters, the phone silently splits them up into multiple messages, that get stuck back together into one message on the receiving end. Or is trick unique to Nokias?

My previous cell phone was receive them as separate text messages. It was weird, but I understood that as the norm, and was amazed how people had the speed to write a second long message after the first, even with stopping mid-word.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:20 PM on June 15, 2009


On second third thought, the whole point of the 140-character limit is to maintain compatibility with SMS messages, so if you were going to break your links there, you might as well just allow longer tweets in the first place.

[sigh]
Don't all the carriers support MMS now anyway?
posted by designbot at 5:41 PM on June 15, 2009


Jimbob: "But you can send SMSs longer than 140 characters"

1) Yes, 140 bytes, but almost all phones encode it as 160 7-bit characters.
2) This is called Concatenated SMS, which seamlessly degrades to multiple messages on receiving phones that don't support it. Nerd analogy: (Concatenated SMS : SMS :: APNG : PNG)
posted by Plutor at 5:50 PM on June 15, 2009


How do these URL-shortening services make money?
posted by five fresh fish at 6:09 PM on June 15, 2009


How do these URL-shortening services make money?

Volume!
posted by GuyZero at 6:15 PM on June 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


This is a very thorough post, and I appreciate the work that has gone into it. However my burning hate for URL shortening services (now with spam malware attack vectors!) will prevent me from contributing in any meaningful way.

So instead, here's a nice recipe for a simple crust for a tart or quiche: http://chocolateandzucchini.com/archives/2009/05/easy_olive_oil_tart_crust.php

(notice the long, decadent, descriptive URL)
posted by device55 at 7:29 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


It really doesn't like social networking sites...
posted by setanor at 7:42 PM on June 15, 2009


And just for shits and giggles: http://gianturl.com/
posted by Evilspork at 9:07 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Wikipedia link about the theoretical limits of URL shortening was interesting.

Also interesting; the opposite problem - the longest possible URL - has no solution. In other words, the RFCs for URLs never give an upper bound (because, really, how could they?) So that means that different software vendors have decided this on an ad hoc basis. If I remember correctly, Internet Explorer will truncate a URL longer than 1024 characters. (These long URLs can come up if you try to GET a long query string.)
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:53 PM on June 15, 2009


URL shortening breaks the web. It is a scourge. It is one of the far too many things that add a couple more drops to my Rage Tank, where, like a camel, I store up the anger juice to get me across those long dry deserts of mellow vibes.

Not really. I'd shower the walls with brains if I let myself get legitimately angry about all the myriad minor daily stupidities like short URL services.

But still, you know, fuck 'em. Right in the ear.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:51 AM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


http://u.nu/2qec
posted by flabdablet at 3:27 AM on June 16, 2009


To understand recursion first you must understand recursion lol
posted by dollyknot at 3:47 AM on June 16, 2009


Japanese corporations have come up with a novel way to shorten URLs: they don't provide them. They say (in adverts and the like) "Search for DoCoMo for more information". They know that either their company is big enough that they're the first hit in searches because everyone links to them, or that they're small enough that they're the first hit in searches because nobody else uses their company name anywhere else.

Makes me wish I had the knowledge and energy to do some googlebombing to knock some of them into the second place search results position.
posted by Bugbread at 5:07 AM on June 16, 2009


If Twitter had allowed the use of the anchor tag this never would've become such a problem.
posted by jedicus at 5:31 PM on June 15


Allowing the anchor tag on Twitter does not solve the underlying problem of the 160-character limit in SMS, in fact it would make it worse.

URL shortening breaks the web. It is a scourge. [...]
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:51 AM on June 16 [+] [!]


I definitely agree with this, I mostly can't stand URL shorteners, especially when they're used for no reason. But in the case of Twitter there is a reason, so I was glad to at least see this in the tinyarrow FAQ:
Q: What are those preview/countdown pages when I click on a link?

We're strong believers in the idea of informed consent. So before people are rick-rolled or are sent to a viagra ad, we want them to know where they're going. As such, by default, all users are given the option to see a countdown before being redirected. This means they don't have to track down some special URL in order to see a preview of where they're going.
That's half the issue for me (the other half being that when this service dies, the link dies with it even though the target content is still there). designbot that's an interesting idea, but doesn't really save that much space in practice. A random YouTube link has 59 characters, taking 7 off the front doesn't matter.

As much as I don't like them, I think URL shorteners are here to stay as long as services like Twitter have character limits.
posted by Who_Am_I at 5:55 AM on June 16, 2009


I think many of the problems (transparency, link rot) are because third parties are involved. Ideally, each service should provide its own URL shortening.

Flickr is a good example. With each photo page you now also get a shortened Flickr URL - here's how it works. The domain flic.kr is owned and operated by flickr.com so one is as lasting and reliable as the other. When I go to flic.kr I know I'll get a flickr photo page, not some piece of malware and likewise the methodology (base 58 conversion) guarantees that URLs aren't reused.
posted by vacapinta at 9:20 AM on June 16, 2009


Small nitpick, but: Those unicode characters take multiple bytes to encode in UTF-8, so really aren't saving much space.

'http://➹.ws/較' is actually 'http://\xe2\x9e\xb9.ws/\xe8\xbc\x83'
posted by cj_ at 9:25 AM on June 16, 2009


Originally URL shorteners were used to get around email word wrapping your links. They predate twitter by years. They are kind of stupid but like lots of kind of stupid things, they exist to get around a larger stupidity.
posted by chairface at 7:44 PM on June 16, 2009


So no one's able to answer how URL shortening services make their money?

My guess, then, is that they're recording IP addresses and using that to develop marketing profiles. In this day of DSL, IP addresses tend to be awfully static.

If I allow myself to think about it, it scares the bejeezus out of me what my Reddit and Google habits reveal about my interests. Mainly that I'll click damn near any freakish link, the freakier the better. When the revolution comes, I can't imagine I'll fare well…
posted by five fresh fish at 8:32 PM on June 16, 2009


TinyURL.com runs banner ads. Like a lot of sites, they run ads and turn eyeballs into money. But it's only eyeballs of people using the shortener.

My guess, then, is that they're recording IP addresses and using that to develop marketing profiles.

Similarly, they may be gathering popularity data like Alexa. Collecting data on destinations is at least as valuable as collecting data on users and isn't as much of an invasion of privacy.
posted by GuyZero at 11:11 PM on June 16, 2009


interesting, I forgot the site I found but I know they make money by charging a monthly fee for creating personalized short urls. Although I agree the anchor tag usage in a tweet would be helpful. For now I just use cli.gs cuase it tracks click through rate...which is another way they can monetize I guess.
posted by TonyDanza at 2:16 PM on June 17, 2009


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