Introducing url(x)
January 3, 2006 2:27 AM   Subscribe

url(x) has already become quite popular in its short life as a tool for shortening those long URLs. The concept isn't anything you haven't seen before, but there are a few extra twists such as the ability to include the domain name of the destination site in the shortened URL. Cool!
posted by chasing (47 comments total)
URL-shortening is hurting the internet.
posted by dickasso at 3:10 AM on January 3, 2006

Shouldn't that link be this?
posted by brettski at 3:13 AM on January 3, 2006

I don't get why people use these, really.... you hardly ever have to type a URL in. And you can specify any text you like as the visible anchor. If a long link would mess up your article, you can anchor it to just one or two words.

It takes about five minutes to learn to build a link. It will work as long as the destination site does.... so if urlx or tinyurl go down (certainly possible), your links are unaffected.

For instance, a URL to go to Slashdot would be coded like this:

<A HREF="">Slashdot</A>

This ends up looking like this:


This really isn't hard... the five minutes of learning time is understanding how the syntax works. Many bulletin boards use very similar syntax, with [] signs substituted for <> ones.

And, voila! Short links without depending on anyone but yourself.
posted by Malor at 3:26 AM on January 3, 2006

Right-on Malor, and this is another stupid single-link FPP straight from the current popular list at, polluting the Metafilter fontpage.
posted by Deepspace at 3:38 AM on January 3, 2006

I agree, what the hell happened to cut&paste?
posted by Acey at 3:42 AM on January 3, 2006

Malor: I don't get why people use these, really.... you hardly ever have to type a URL in. And you can specify any text you like as the visible anchor. If a long link would mess up your article, you can anchor it to just one or two words.
I agree with your argument, but they do have a use: e-mail. Line wrapping can easily break long URLs, meaning multiple copy & pastes to get the whole thing in the address bar.
posted by camcgee at 3:43 AM on January 3, 2006

That said, I did once used short urls in a bulletin board sig because they restrict the number of characters you can have. So there. I'm a hypocrite.
posted by Acey at 3:43 AM on January 3, 2006

I've been using SnipURL. I do a lot of online surveys and the web survey programme I use generates a very long URL so I shorten it. Often the survey invitation will go out on paper in addition to e-mail so thats why I use it.
posted by SSinVan at 4:09 AM on January 3, 2006

I can see how these services are handy for emails etc, but have to agree that it's also incredibly pointless for web posts etc.

...and this is another stupid single-link FPP ...

Can this nonsense please stop, it's just as poor as posting bad fpp's.

Do you not see the irony in posting a crap single line comment to bitch about a crap single link post?
posted by twistedonion at 4:33 AM on January 3, 2006

Plus, it's a pretty useful link in itself.
posted by Swandive at 4:35 AM on January 3, 2006

I've seen maybe ONE use -- some boards inexpliquably barf on some html entities in long urls (though this is less true these days).

I would be curious what the shelf-life is, though.
posted by RavinDave at 4:40 AM on January 3, 2006

Short URLs have their uses, but there aren't many of htem. If you have only text email or are sending to someone who only has text email, they can be useful in preventing URLs from getting broken. But relatively few people can neither send nor receive HTML email; and of those who are constrained to text-only, relatively few of those use mail clients that break the line. (At least, before the message gets quoted.)

As far as using a short URL versus a long URL in web postings -- that's just dumb. It's more work in most cases I can think of. Look to the lower-right edge of the "comment:" box on this page -- see the "link" button? It's actually a couple fewer steps to copy a URL and paste it there than to copy it and paste it into the URL(x) box and then copy and paste it back here. No point.

Anyway, many newer web applications incorporate the notion that the URL should tell you something about the content. It's an old idea, not a new one, but it's a good one -- analogous to the idea that a street address tells you something about the place it corresponds to. If I tell you "I live at 101 Big Expensive Street in High End Suburb, Chicago IL", that tells you something. Similarly, if I say "go to", in principle at least you know something about what you're going to see.
posted by lodurr at 4:44 AM on January 3, 2006

shelf-life? Well shorl keeps your short urls forever, and the idea of koremutake is that you can memorize and pronounce the URL.
Using these things on the web? Nono, I only ever use it in emails to mailinglists (where long URLs tend to break), posting shortened URLs in a webpost is just daft.
posted by dabitch at 4:48 AM on January 3, 2006

Short URLs are useful for e-mail, so it's wrong to say they're useless.

And there is nothing wrong with single-link posts. Quit spreading that nonsense. All you're doing is encouraging people to load their posts with pointless extra links.
posted by languagehat at 5:20 AM on January 3, 2006

There are other uses for such a service, based on non-electronic media. For example, I am currently working on my third book, which is a popular science number, and will contain many references to web pages in the "Further Reading" and Bibliography sections. Often, the URLS of these pages are rather long and cumbersome, and, if I am to encourage my readers to visit them, addresses should be as short and easy to type in as possible. Of course, I will also provide a web page for the book, with all links provided there, but not all authors have the means or ability to do this.
posted by gene_machine at 6:10 AM on January 3, 2006

If it's called url(x), it should be a service that allows you to link to slashdot(101412) and have that go to post #101412 on /. No?

Besides, URL shortening services enable those who construct egregiously long URLs in the first place, when really, we should be boycotting the bastards.
posted by Eideteker at 6:24 AM on January 3, 2006

odinsdream, you took the words from my mouth.

GeneMachine, control your own marketing!

Better to create a redirect from a short URL to the full URL. (E.g., redirects to a much longer, ridiculously ugly PostNuke URL. Please don't bother actually going there, though.) Many CPanel-based ISP control panels have an applet that mediates creating redirects. You always give out the simple redirect, and that allows you to create the page and name it in any way that you like.

I also gather that a lot of blogging software has modules to mediate making shortcuts. (I know Drupal does.)
posted by lodurr at 6:30 AM on January 3, 2006

Thanks to all of you who so kindly took the time to tell me how useless TinyURL and similar services are. Now that you have enlightened me I will go back to sending long URLs that break across lines in my plain text emails and leave it up to the recipients to click through to those lovely, useful 404s.
posted by twsf at 6:41 AM on January 3, 2006

I agree that there is nothing wrong with a single-link post. On the other hand, a little effort would be nice, and there does seem to be a tradition of linking up past mentions of a topic. Just a little research yields lots of interesting stuff that could have been included in a <more inside> to avoid creating a long post with a lot of useless noise.

For example, there are previous posts about URL shortening, especially URL Fun, but also TinyUrl, Whacked. There was also a post that is a great example of why this service is different (better?) from previous incarnations, This is NOT why we wanted robots.

Finally, during the search I found this awesome post, 7,000 Years of Religious Ritual is Traced in Mexico, which I'm going to go read now (maybe).

Oh ya, and some old Keyser Soze mischeif.
posted by Chuckles at 6:47 AM on January 3, 2006

I'm glad that you've seen the light, twsf, and that you take this important issue seriously enough to make certain that we're aware of your views.
posted by lodurr at 6:47 AM on January 3, 2006

I hate you, chuckles. You just shot any chance of getting work done this morning.
posted by lodurr at 6:49 AM on January 3, 2006

It can be really useful for IM, I would imagine. I've had trouble because the parser in MSN fucks up links with unusual characters.

Really though, everyone should use mod_rewrit or something and present a sensible URL to the world.
posted by delmoi at 7:06 AM on January 3, 2006

As far as the usefulness of the service... The only useful application I can think of is the oft mentioned plain text email. Good form is to include tinyURL links inline with the paragraph text and then put hard links in the bottom of a message. I participate in a mailing list were that kind of care is sometimes worthwhile.

Tonight I heard a show on Radio Australia (via CBC Radio Overnight)
called "All in the Mind". They are speaking with author Thomas W.
Laqueur about why masturbation became a taboo in our society. Apparently
the major push toward condemning the practice began in 1712 when quack
doctor John Marten wrote "Onania; or, The Heinous Sin of Self Pollution
and all its Frightful Consequences". The book was written to promote a
remedy which he was selling to cure those "Frightful Consequences".

I don't think Dr. Marten came up with the "hair on the palms" theory.

Laqueur is author of "Solitary Sex : A Cultural History of Masturbation"

Also on the topic of Masturbation is the page "A Short History of
Circumcision in North America: In the Physicians' Own Words". Apparently
the primary motivation for the rise of medical circumcision was to
discourage masturbation. Here is an especially graphic quote:

In cases of masturbation we must, I believe, break the habit
by inducing such a condition of the parts as will cause too
much local suffering to allow of the practice being continued.
For this purpose, if the prepuce is long, we may circumcise
the male patient with present and probably with future
advantage; the operation, too, should not be performed under
chloroform, so that the pain experienced may be associated
with the habit we wish to eradicate.


full link:
I don't think this new service is of much use for me...
posted by Chuckles at 7:10 AM on January 3, 2006

The only useful application I can think of is the oft mentioned plain text email.

Telnet-based text-only BBSes, however small a niche they may occupy in the big scheme of things, also benefit nicely from a URL shortening service.
posted by Spatch at 7:35 AM on January 3, 2006

Isn't URL shortening bad for your cholesterol?
posted by muppetboy at 7:43 AM on January 3, 2006

What is the point of arguing if these services are useful or not? If you don't find them useful, don't use them! Since there are many of these services and many users, they must be useful for someone! You may not be one of those people, but at least you can respect those that find it useful.

For me, they are very useful. A lot of people I am emailing still use text email, so the only way to make sure the URL's don't get butchered is to send shortened versions. In addition, I sometimes have to follow-up with print letters, where the shorter the URL the more likely someone will go through the trouble of trying it to type it and not make a mistake.

And it is not much of a hassle either. I use the TinyURL extension in Firefox, which makes it as easy as clicking a button on my Bookmark Toolbar: the TinyURL from the current URL is created and automatically copied into the clipboard, ready for me to paste it into the email message.

Thanks for the post, chasing.
posted by tuxster at 7:44 AM on January 3, 2006

The cool thing is that when one of these services goes out of business, they can just goatse everybody until their connectivity gets shut off.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:57 AM on January 3, 2006

Do you not see the irony in posting a crap single line comment to bitch about a crap single link post?

posted by Witty at 8:10 AM on January 3, 2006

There are lots of reasons to use shortened URLs. I run a busy forum/mailing list and many long URLs are broken in either the mailing list version or the forum post or both. I would say about half the URLs posted to the list are redirected from TinyURL, not because of any edict from me but because it works.

A typical example would be where a URL contains a character like '!' which breaks the hotlinking function in many mail and forum formatters.

Just because YOU don't see the need doesn't mean there isn't a need.
posted by unSane at 8:18 AM on January 3, 2006

These services never seem to provide a simple means of translating one of their links instead of following it. TinyURL seems to have a new "preview" feature, but it requires you to set a cookie to enable previewing instead of redirection. Why none of them let you visit the site and paste in the URL, or append some argument like "?check" and get a translation of the URL instead of a redirect is beyond me. Any programmer worth a rat's ass includes things like that simply for completeness.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:28 AM on January 3, 2006

I absolutely despise these tools. If the link isn't business-related, I'd like to know what it is before I click.

If it is business-related, involving a third party (especially one with no obvious business plan) seems a bad idea as well.

If you really need shorter URLs for your work, I'd suggest having somebody in your IT department whip up your very own[urlid] script. That way the recipient of the email has some assurance that they're getting redirected legitimately, and you know that nobody has the ability to screw with your clients.
posted by I Love Tacos at 9:15 AM on January 3, 2006

Thanks for the comments - as I said, I expect most readers to access the resources via the book website, but I take on board the point about control. I'll look into alternatives.
posted by gene_machine at 9:24 AM on January 3, 2006

I miss HugeURL. This just isn't the same.
posted by gramschmidt at 10:27 AM on January 3, 2006

Not knowing about HugeURL, I wrote my own some time ago:
quite a bit longer link dot cgi
Note that quiteabitlongerlink.cgi also encrypts and signs the URL for added security!
posted by jepler at 11:24 AM on January 3, 2006

Hey guys, thanks for all the feedback. I created url(x) and I have to say I've never used any of the other services like it before. My motivation pretty much came from a frustration with having to click on shortened URLs that have no affordance as to where they were taking me. Hopefully it will fill a niche for those who use these things regularly. Please do send feedback along if you have any burning ideas on how to make the user experience (for both the link creator and clicker) less crappy.
posted by dphiffer at 12:21 AM on January 4, 2006

Short links are useful in printed publications - The UK Guardian "ask jack" computer section uses them (can't link to hardcopy in my hand, but online version is here, which, er, doesn't use short urls).
posted by magpie68 at 3:56 AM on January 4, 2006

A few responses to ideas that were floated...

Is it useful? Sometimes, maybe, if you're into that sort of thing. My take is that if these services have to exist, why not make them less crappy?

The shelf-life issue: yes this is something that concerns me as well. I'd like to open source the whole thing and maybe provide a public MySQL dump, a'la Wikipedia. This raises some big privacy issues, which I'm currently trying to work out.

Eideteker, I really like your Slashdot idea. I'll see if I can implement something like that down the line. Maybe a sort of URL plug-in system?
posted by dphiffer at 5:27 AM on January 4, 2006

One more thing about shelf-life -- I think the key issue is whether links will stay permanent. Unless I get significantly more evil in the future, I won't turn the whole thing into goatse links (although the temptation is non-zero).

I guess a key thing that I should include somewhere on the site is a promise that I'll make an effort to pass the reigns on to someone else if I become bored with the project or incapacitated. Like a living will, but for URLs? Weird.
posted by dphiffer at 5:47 AM on January 4, 2006

By the way, what is FPP? I'm a huge Mefi newbie. Somehow I doubt you guys were talking about the "Forest Peoples Programme."
posted by dphiffer at 5:52 AM on January 4, 2006

FPP is Front Page Post.

The term thread isn't so popular around here, and post is a little ambiguous - does post equal thread or comment. So we get FPP to be a little more clear. Of course that gets weird over in AskMe because you have questions and answers...
posted by Chuckles at 6:17 AM on January 4, 2006

dphiffer: It would be interesting to have it work for any link on a given site. e.g., "" should go here, without any need to 'activate' that link. Though I like the "" parenthetical format, and it gives you brand identity. You could set up the database to be programmed by anyone (like bugmenot) so that an alias and the syntax can be set up for any site, so long as the shortened URL is no longer than 40 characters (I think that's the wrap limit for most crappy e-mail clients). mefi: This thread would be, the next, and so on. Searchable index of available aliases and sites, and a list of the most popular redirects. Best of all, no worries about shelf-life (other than the other site changing its internal structure, which will kill any tinyURL-alike as well).

Hmm... tinyURL should cache pages like google (if it doesn't already). That would be a cool feature.

In other news, putting any URL into is fun.
posted by Eideteker at 2:27 PM on January 4, 2006

As long as the redirect rules are kept up-to-date (like bugmenot), the nice thing is that[isbn]) could have a longer shelf-life than the everchanging OBIDOS/gp/whatever syntax they have going. This would also make it just a little easier to compare items on Amazon to, say[isbn]), etc. Could be useful...
posted by dphiffer at 2:47 PM on January 4, 2006

Eideteker's sugestion is starting to sound a lot like a server side version of Dave's Quick Search...
posted by Chuckles at 7:52 PM on January 4, 2006

I don't see how that allows you to e-mail short links to people.
posted by Eideteker at 10:32 PM on January 4, 2006

Obviously it doesn't...

What you are thinking of, at least what I take from your statement, is that you could create a method of accessing a website using URLs that logically map to a target page, but do not address that page directly. You know, like the function url(x), in the mathematics sense.

In Dave's typing amaz [isbn] takes you directly to the book with that isbn, typing imdb 0076759 takes you to Star Wars (well, one click removed, I'll come back to this). Also, the system which links the typed content with the final web site is user submitted.

Of course Dave's often depends on the search feature at various sites, which is admittedly a little different (the imdb case above). On the other hand, there are many Dave's features that work directly with the target websites controls, so...
posted by Chuckles at 10:59 PM on January 4, 2006

I think the IMDB example has pretty limited usefulness. Those links are already short and it's unlikely that I'd ever want to memorize the IMDB code for a movie. ISBNs are pretty ubiquitous & portable, but still I think for a feature like this to actually be useful it would need to key off of text phrases instead of codes. I'm working on it :)
posted by dphiffer at 2:41 PM on January 6, 2006

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