The Internet hoards are fickle, easily distractible masses – just look at the proliferation of Lolcats and the whole Rickroll phenomenon. We’re not passing judgment – who doesn’t like a well-played Rickroll? – we’re just saying. Turns out, the popular link shortening site bit.ly thinks the same thing, only they have numbers to back it up. That awesome link you posted on Twitter? It’ll see most of its clicks in less time than it takes to watch a Peter Jackson movie.
Twitter is taking steps to make itself more self-reliant, and towards that end, the microblogging service on Tuesday announced it will automatically slice and dice URLs into shortened links. This essentially cuts out the middlemen, like Bit.ly, TinyURL, Goo.gl, and whatever else you might have been using to free up as many of those 140 characters as possible.
Some Facebook users are getting a troubling error message today when they try to post links to the social networking site. Links shortened with j.mp (a bit.ly run service) are causing the following to be displayed: "This message contains blocked content that has previously been flagged as abusive or spammy. Let us know if you think this is an error." A simple mistake on Facebook's end? Actually, no.
When TechCrunch reached out to Facebook for comment, the site's PR reps said the block was entirely intentional. "At the time we blocked j.mp, more than 70% of j.mp links pointed to spam or other security issues," a Facebook rep said. They went on to say they were working with Bit.ly to resolve the issue.
It is unclear if this was a temporary jump in spam traffic, or if j.mp links have just become spammy by nature. There are also some rumors that Facebook is planning to launch a URL shortener of its own, so tweaking the current market leaders could be all in good fun in the Zuckerberg camp.
A few weeks ago, Google opened up its Goo.gl URL shortener to all. It has some neat tricks like real-time stats tracking, and QR code creation, but it turns out to have another feature. It's super fast. Some testing done by Pingdom shows that in most situations, Google's URL shortener is faster at directing users to pages than the competition.
Page load times in North America and Europe were tested, and Goo.gl was the winner by a country mile. Is.gd actually had slightly better performance in Europe, but it's slow North American load times hurt it in the combined calculation. The popular Bit.ly URL shortener was found to be three times slower than Goo.gl.
We are talking about a few hundred milliseconds here. So the difference in real life might be negligible. It's more about bragging rights than anything else. Would you be swayed by these sorts of tests to use a different service?
Google's URL shortener is now fully active, and available to everyone. Many predicted this would be bad news for Bit.ly, but the company isn't going down without a fight. One of the useful features of Goo.gl is that you can add ".qr" to any of the shortened URLs to get a scannable QR code. QR codes can be scanned with many mobile phones. Now Bit.ly is adopting the same feature.
This will work with regular Bit.ly links, as well as the custom version used by many sites. Just add .qr and you'll get the page with the QR code. But what's that? Under the QR code we see the Bit.ly mascot about to make a snack of some colorful orbs. Some Google-colored orbs, in fact. Yeah, take that Google.
Bit.ly and Goo.gl both provide excellent analytics on shortened links, but Goo.gl has not fully rolled out its API, so it is not implemented in as many places. Have you ever used the .qr trick on a Goo.gl link? Will you now?
The rapid adoption of .ly domains over the last few years has resulted in a great many services being built around these clever domain names. We're talking about sites like Bit.ly, Ad.ly, and Ow.ly. Now all that is in jeopardy after computing consultant Ben Metcalf had his domain, vb.ly, seized by the Libyan government. You see, .ly is the top level domain for Libya, and the controlling body (NIC.ly) can revoke domains as they see fit.
What did Metcalf do that resulted in his domain being yanked? NIC.ly felt that the content of his site was not in keeping with Libyan Islamic/Sharia Law. Based on what Metcalf has been able to find out, the Libyan government is taking a harder line on deregistering domains. NIC.ly seems to have decided to attempt regulating content on .ly sites.
Previous reports also indicate that NIC.ly is trying to keep .ly domains of less than 4 characters for use in Libya. So this new strictness could be connected. The boom in .ly sites has been good business for Libya, so it's hard to see why they'd sabotage it. What do you think the angle is here? Are more sites in danger?
New York-based URL shortener Bit.ly is being courted by a number of companies, chiefly among them is Yahoo. If Bit.ly were acquired by Yahoo, it would be another piece in what appears to be a big social media push from the former search king. Rumors have been flying for months that Yahoo is also in talks to buy up location-based social networking company Foursquare.
Yahoo has become more of a content company as Google has taken over direct search. Since Yahoo's user base is mostly about content consumption, it makes sense to use social media to make their existing properties more interactive. What they are looking at is social aggregation; pulling in their users' activities from around the web to a Yahoo hub.
Bit.ly's real usefulness is to Yahoo wouldn't be its ability to shorten URLs, but rather the performance tracking of shortened URLs. This is going to be an integral part of the real-time web. We're passing the point that delayed web metrics can be of use. Where do you see Yahoo's strategy going?
Twitter seems bent on developing official alternatives to all the third party software and services individuals have developed. After releasing a Blackberry Twitter client, and buying an iPhone client, Twitter is announcing they intend to create their own URL shortening service. Evan Williams himself made the announcement at Chirp. Until now, Bit.ly has been tightly integrated with the social networking service, that partnership seems uncertain now.
This isn't coming completely out of left field, though. Twitter investor Fred Wilson strongly suggested in a blog post that URL shortening services would do well to stop relying on Twitter. The speculation is that the recently acquired twee.tt domain would be used for this purpose. Twitter already has short URL service called twt.tl that is used as an anti-spam system for direct messages.
If Twitter does indeed go through with this, it doesn't necessarily mean the end of Bit.ly. Third-party twitter clients could still continue to use the service, though its roll may be decreased. The Bit.ly Pro service could help them along as well. What do you think about Twitter's course of action? Do you feel sorry for developers, or should they have known this could happen?
One of the bigger sources for URL spoofing, malware insertion, and general Internet annoyance can be found in the legions of URL shortening services that exist on today's Web. You can't go three clicks deep on a page without finding some kind of cleverly named way to transform a 108-character URL into an 8-character shortcut. Regardless of the service you personally prefer for all of your URL-shortening needs, one common element remains constant through all of them: When you come across a shortened URL, you have no native way to tell where it is you're going.
The last thing you need is to be sent to some kind of horrific site that compromises your system's security (or, worse, some horrific site that compromises your job security). If you're a fan of the Google Chrome browser--and I bet you are, given that you're reading the Extension of the Week article--you'll definitely want to check out a little add-on called Explode.
Oh, you internet tricksters. Had I a nickel every time somebody erroneously sent me to a filthy, filthy Web site via a common tinyurl or bit.ly shortened url, I wouldn't have to write articles for Maximum PC just to pay my monthly Internet bills. But alas, I am quite gullible. Or at least, I was... until I ran across a lifesaving Chrome extension called Expand.
I often use this point in these mini-profiles to make some kind of joke along the lines of, "oh I bet you know what this does, don't you?" Try to envision that in the voice of Stan the salesman, if you can. Suffice, it is pretty easy to guess what the Expand extension does by name alone. In fact, there's only one configuration option that comes with this extension. The rest is all taken care of automatically and behind-the-scenes during your general browsing experience. Install this extension, sit back, and reap the benefits of its simple--yet powerful--functionality.
So, er, what exactly does it do? You'll find out after the jump!