Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Tr.im that shortening!

I hate short URLs. Why? There are very few reasons for their existence! One: Twitter. Two: Tracking. Three? ... My friend Joshua has an excellent take on this. There may be some reasons for shortening URLs, but embedding URLs in posts is not one of them.

Twitter is convenient for short posts, but needing to go get a bit.ly or tiny.url in the 21st century is seriously a step backward. It slows us down. 2 steps instead of 1. Yes, yes, I understand the 140 character limit, but why enforce that limit anywhere beyond SMS? Who uses SMS to tweet anyway? Anyone? Enforcing this limit in environments beyond SMS is bogus and is responsible for a bunch of random services to exist and for slowing down the web (via unnecessary redirects).

I no longer know a tweet URL I'm clicking on - it could be spam, it could be great - the only signal is whether I trust the person who tweeted it. Therefore, shorteners are now offering more services on top (of an unnecessary service):
"First we'll shorten it for you, so you'll have to take an extra hop on the internet, and we have a reason to exist. Next, to look more useful, we'll provide you spam signals and trap you before you do harm to yourself. Then, we'll provide you metadata and statistics.  We're so useful." 
Baloney! If a URL is driving users to my own content, guess what - I already have (or should have) tracking, e.g., Google Analytics, at my web site/blog. If it is not my own content, then measuring why and how many people are clicking on (my) URLs to news sites, magazines and journals can't really be anything but self-serving. So, shortener tracking is basically an artificial need.

Facebook does not have this limitation; I add a link and Facebook does more for me - it extracts images and summarizes for me - that's value! Metadata? How many people have linked it could be useful, user ratings on the target document would be useful, a favicon of the site could be useful - not the damn cryptic URL that adds nothing. Do I really want to remember that tcrn.ch stands for Techcrunch? No! I'd rather have the TC favicon next to the URL. That's authority for the simple-minded! Of course, that authority is a little suspect after stories like this and this and then this (more like Valleywag :-))

Even if Twitter needs to shorten, do they really have to put the garbled text for the link anchor? Can't they just say "LINK/STORY" instead of bit.ly/3746q876oq and link to whatever silly URL trimming service they favor that morning? Twitter? Anybody home? Are you listening?

It makes me upset that this silly trend has caused further proliferation of shortening services, which sometimes frame URLs instead of redirecting, rather than shorten the lives of the few that existed. And, of course, these services are trim-med all the time, so we can't depend on them!

I don't know if Google Buzz, or Yahoo! Updates will succeed/flourish, but at least shortening is not mandatory fat for these services, and I sure hope they help short URLs die!

Mobile is surely going to leave SMS limits behind - and if people really  need to use SMS, use technology like compression to send longer messages over SMS - this is text for heavens sake! Weren't people using fancy compression to send larger messages over SMS? Do it people!

We all know shortening is not good for health!
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