The Big Future of Little URLs


I was talking to a good buddy of mine out in the valley about the component services required to build an open content sharing solution. Specifically, we discussed an open infrastructure that would enable web application developers to build sites that enabled users to move images, videos, widgets, etc from their site to other endpoints. In the context of that discussion, however, we spent a lot of time discussing a very narrow topic. What’s the future of URL-shortening?

For those of you that are not familiar with the URL-shortening space, it is a web service (typically exposed on a website via a simple form), that enables a user to take a BIG url and make it smaller. Why the hell is that useful? Well, for services like Twitter with character limitations – this service is essential. A big huge url string will take all of the space you would use all the characters within your message. Some leaders in the space are Tinyurl and Bit.ly.

At Clearspring, we are interested in understanding the future of these solutions because of our AddThis Sharing and Bookmarking service. AddThis is a sharing tool that publishers can quickly add to websites and enable users to post URL-based content to places like Twitter, Friendfeed, Facebook and more. As we started exploring, I started to wonder…

  • 1. Should a sharing service build their own url-shortener, or integrate?
  • 2. Assuming you integrate, what’s the business model for the url-shortener?
  • 3. As sites become more used to exchanging data, will url-shortening even matter?

I am a big fan of these services. There are probably a ton of applications for their data, but I still have questions. Would love to hear any thoughts on this.

hoomanradfar Written by:

  • Todd Havens

    I hate to lean toward adding more icons and buttons to already-crowded webpages, but it'd be nice if URLs had an automatic TinyURL or Bit.ly tag available somewhere. I find that Twitter doesn't always do it automatically so I find myself not posting when I don't want to do all of the cut-and-pasting myself.

    That being said, I would think that URL shortening software would be pretty easy for a company to design and implement…and if we're talking about garnering hits to a site for ad rates, wouldn't those sites want their own in-house shortened URLs?

  • Why burden the website owner with implementing tiny url functions when you can incorporate this function into a browser add-on. Firefox (and I am sure Chrome is not far behind) already has quite a few add-ons, which will shorten the URL (go here to see all the different add-ons for tinyurls: http://tinyurl.com/yp9hqh).

    I actually think the emerging market isn't in tiny url services but in huge url services like: hugeurl.com =). Cheers! ~Paul

  • Paul, I agree in theory. Much of what we do on the web, including sharing, should be encapsulated in the browser. That being said, users do not typically download plugins. Recall the whole 'plugin-wave' of companies that had cool services that didn't quite take off because of that.

    My bottom line is that users should not see URLs, or EMBEDs. They should see representations of objects and have an easy way of invoking services on those objects that is intuitive and in-line with their cognitive models.

    I love HUGEURL! Hillarious.

  • Bernhard Lermann

    What I see, is that internet newbies still take a long time to understand the system of URLs (and they mix up the search field and the address field, which is OK)

    Just wondered why my new business has to have a URL and why I have to find a free URL before I can name my business/service. No surprise we someday end up with funny and stupid names for our services! Which is part of a creative way out of the limitations. But it is still about limitations.

    I agree with Hooman, that we have to get rid of URLs, embedding and pasting keeps people from focusing on the content and stop the flow.

    There still can be huuge URLs behind it!

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