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Shorten this

Roll your own mini-URLs.

In April of 2009, in a post every web designer, publisher, or business person should read, Joshua Schachter told how URL shortening services like TinyURL and Bit.ly came to be, and why the latest ones were so addictive. (Missing from Joshua’s account of their utility is the benefit URL shorteners can provide when sharing an otherwise obscenely long link on the printed page.)

The prescient post concludes that, despite their benefits, such services ultimately harm the web, decreasing clarity while increasing the odds of linkrot and spam:

[S]hortening services add another layer of indirection to an already creaky system. A regular hyperlink implicates a browser, its DNS resolver, the publisher’s DNS server, and the publisher’s website. With a shortening service, you’re adding something that acts like a third DNS resolver, except one that is assembled out of unvetted PHP and MySQL, without the benevolent oversight of luminaries like Dan Kaminsky and St. Postel.

There are three other parties in the ecosystem of a link: the publisher (the site the link points to), the transit (places where that shortened link is used, such as Twitter or Typepad), and the clicker (the person who ultimately follows the shortened links). Each is harmed to some extent by URL shortening.

There’s more, and you should read it all.

One of Joshua’s recommendations to minimize some of the harm is that websites do their own URL shortening instead of relying on middlemen. I’ve done some of that here, via the ShortURL plug-in for WordPress. Thus I use zeldman.com/x/48 instead of a much longer URL to notify my friends on Twitter about a new comment on an oldish thread. Likewise, zeldman.com/x/49 redirects to yesterday’s big post, “Write When Inspired.”

Rolling your own mini-URLs lessens the chance that your carefully cultivated links will rot if the third-party URL shortening site goes down or goes out of business, as is happening to tr.im, a URL shortener that is pulling the plug because it could neither monetize nor sell its service.

tr.im is now in the process of discontinuing service, effective immediately….

No business we approached wanted to purchase tr.im for even a minor amount.

There is no way for us to monetize URL shortening — users won’t pay for it — and we just can’t justify further development since Twitter has all but annointed bit.ly the market winner.

The Short URL Plugin for WordPress installs automatically. It provides simple statistics, telling you how many times a link has been clicked, sets up redirects automatically, allows you to choose a custom link style, and more. You’re not limited to shortening your own URLs, although that’s mainly how I use it; you can also shorten third-party URLs, turning your site into a miny TinyURL. I’ve used this plugin for months, with nothing but joy in its cleverness and usability.

[tags]ShortURL, plugin, WordPress, plugins, joshua schachter, tr.im, bit.ly, URL, Twitter, TinyURL, web, usability, internet, links, security[/tags]

By Jeffrey Zeldman

“King of Web Standards”—Bloomberg Businessweek.

Principal & Creative Director, Automattic, Inc. Founder & Publisher, A List Apart. Co-founder, An Event Apart design conference. Publisher & co-founder, A Book Apart—brief books for people who design, write, and code. Have written two books, notably Designing With Web Standards, 3rd Edition. Faculty, MFA, Interaction Design program, School of Visual Arts, NY. Host, The Big Web Show. But what I really want to do is direct.