Length Doesn't Matter: Twitter forcing universal URL shortening soon

"Length doesn't matter" according to Twitter this week, with Twitter announcing that they will begin routing all links that travel through it's site through their own link shortening service, including links that are sent from the web interface and any third party clients. 

Twitter said in a blog post that they've actually been performing shortening on links sent through Direct Message already, but will expanding it to the entire service "this summer". In the blog post, they say that this is to "detect, intercept and prevent the spread of malware, phishing and other dangers", and that they will "present users with a page that warns them of potentially malicious content if they click blacklisted links".

Direct Messages are currently shortened using a "twt.tl" link, but when the service is rolled out to all tweets, the links will be shortened to a "t.co" link. This shortening will happen even if the link has already been shortened by a third party service - such as bit.ly.

The shortening service will also shorten long links into the t.co format for SMS display, but potentially will be displayed to users as part of the actual destination URL on their PC. Also, the blog post says that "In addition to a better user experience and increased safety, routing links through this service will eventually contribute to the metrics behind our Promoted Tweets platform and provide an important quality signal for our Resonance algorithm—the way we determine if a Tweet is relevant and interesting to users."

Developers that create applications on the Twitter platform can start getting their applications ready now, and they've rolled out wrapped links to a few accounts, @TwitterAPI, @rsarver, and @raffi to help developers test their code.

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26 Comments

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link shortening is contrary to smart browsing and is often used to fool people into going to harmful pages such as rickroll that hijack your browser or last measure.

the few times i have clicked on a shortened url i have regretted it.

treemonster said,
link shortening is contrary to smart browsing and is often used to fool people into going to harmful pages such as rickroll that hijack your browser or last measure.

the few times i have clicked on a shortened url i have regretted it.

There are things you can do to avoid such things. TinyURL (maybe others too) have a "preview cookie" you can set which will take you to a preview of the linked page to make sure you're not going anywhere you don't want to.

I do agree though. URL shortening services are toxic to the internet, and at risk of making the whole web a massive kludge of anonymous links.

Ugh, should still make it optional. I use Twitter in a business fashion... links we give out need to be trust-able...not reading the url of the destination == bad news. If twitter links can't be trusted at all (if any random one potentially has issues...), there's some major risks there for my continued business use. Especially with standing active threats like Flash and PDF exploits currently. Not the best move twitter's ever made.

Majesticmerc said,

Twitter will shorten it to something like:

It does anyway with bit.ly, but what i am saying is if the URL is longer than 140 characters it doesnt actually let you post, thus, no shortening, unless the shortening will happen in real time as soon as you paste the link?

If this is not the case then you would still need to shorten the URL before you could post the your tweet.

Uplift said,

It does anyway with bit.ly, but what i am saying is if the URL is longer than 140 characters it doesnt actually let you post, thus, no shortening, unless the shortening will happen in real time as soon as you paste the link?

If this is not the case then you would still need to shorten the URL before you could post the your tweet.

I would assume it would work the same way that Brizzly does. Brizzly lets you go over the 140 character limit, since it calculates the actual size by estimating the length of the bit.ly link it will generate for your link.

This is a huge slap in the face for all URL shorteners. I'd guess that a lot of their traffic is from Twitter versus your average usage elsewhere. :\ Wonder if most of them will retain their service or if those that saw most usage from Twitter will shut down. :3

URL shortening is pretty lame. Why don't they just have a dialog that pops up that says "You entered a link. Give it a title!" Then, no long url on the status, it's in the HTML

collegeHumorMan said,
URL shortening is pretty lame. Why don't they just have a dialog that pops up that says "You entered a link. Give it a title!" Then, no long url on the status, it's in the HTML

Which Facebook can do.

collegeHumorMan said,
URL shortening is pretty lame. Why don't they just have a dialog that pops up that says "You entered a link. Give it a title!" Then, no long url on the status, it's in the HTML

Because Twitter isn't just HTML, it more closely resembles an SMS message than HTML, which would mean that all third party clients will have to start parsing (potentially invalid) HTML and reduce the robustness of the service.

collegeHumorMan said,
URL shortening is pretty lame. Why don't they just have a dialog that pops up that says "You entered a link. Give it a title!" Then, no long url on the status, it's in the HTML

Twitter is made for SMS messaging. That's where the 140 character limit comes from.

Northgrove said,

Twitter is made for SMS messaging. That's where the 140 character limit comes from.

"<a href= > </a>" Just wasted 14 of those without even entering the url or the title.

I don't use or particularly care about twitter, but I can see a problem with this idea. Short URLs don't last forever; they're recycled. All the twitter bugs were ecstatic when the Library of Congress announced they'd archive all the tweets; but this at least partially impacts the utility of that. In the future when this stuff is data mined, these URLs now will be even less informational than the names of ancient works lost in the Great Library, unless they're archived with the full URL in tact for posterity.

(I realize not all sites are "saved" anyways, but at least some things can be found on the archive.org)

Vlad said,
I don't use or particularly care about twitter, but I can see a problem with this idea. Short URLs don't last forever; they're recycled. All the twitter bugs were ecstatic when the Library of Congress announced they'd archive all the tweets; but this at least partially impacts the utility of that. In the future when this stuff is data mined, these URLs now will be even less informational than the names of ancient works lost in the Great Library, unless they're archived with the full URL in tact for posterity.

(I realize not all sites are "saved" anyways, but at least some things can be found on the archive.org)

I too am not a user of Twitter, and while this will be a great improvement to twitter based on my limited experience with it, I agree with you. When you shorten a URL to a specific number of characters, there is only a limited number of ways you can use those characters. They should IMO only shorten links that are not already shortened by an alternative site, that would allow more diversity in the users options, while offering a catch-all for users who are not currently shortening URLs.

They could simply use subdomains though to make this service much more expandable. Say they have 50 subdomains that all use the same "t.co" domain or whatever it is twitter will be using, but you will have to the 50 times the amount of space as if you had not used subdomains (instead of say 1 million possible links, you would have 50 million, obviously the numbers will be much larger, but you get the point).

So, while I agree that short URLs are limited, they could easily create the system to be expandable up to a near-infinite amount of short URLs.

Vlad said,
I don't use or particularly care about twitter, but I can see a problem with this idea. Short URLs don't last forever; they're recycled. All the twitter bugs were ecstatic when the Library of Congress announced they'd archive all the tweets; but this at least partially impacts the utility of that. In the future when this stuff is data mined, these URLs now will be even less informational than the names of ancient works lost in the Great Library, unless they're archived with the full URL in tact for posterity.

(I realize not all sites are "saved" anyways, but at least some things can be found on the archive.org)

Like you said, they could just expand the URLs before archiving the tweet.

I'm not sure what you guys are talking about recycling URL's.

Five characters of a-z, A-Z, and 0-9 can store 916 million URL's.
Six alphanumeric characters can store 56.8 billion URL's.
Seven alphanumeric characters can store 3.5 trillion URL's.

So I think if this service is launched, they'll soon enough get to six characters, but probably not much beyond that. Not a huge deal?

Shorteners never recycle their URL's. I'm not sure where you guys got that from? The popular service bit.ly never does, for example, they just add a character if necessary, but that almost never happens anymore since they don't need to.

The problem here isn't that. The problem is however link rot: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U...ning#Criticism_and_problems

That shortened URL's point to non-existing destinations, and that you can't always easily find out what they were pointing to (some shortening services support this however). There's also the problem if e.g. bit.ly would go bankrupt. Imagine how many links that would break overnight, and no one would know what they were pointing to.

Northgrove said,
I'm not sure what you guys are talking about recycling URL's.

Five characters of a-z, A-Z, and 0-9 can store 916 million URL's.
Six alphanumeric characters can store 56.8 billion URL's.
Seven alphanumeric characters can store 3.5 trillion URL's.

So I think if this service is launched, they'll soon enough get to six characters, but probably not much beyond that. Not a huge deal?

Shorteners never recycle their URL's. I'm not sure where you guys got that from? The popular service bit.ly never does, for example, they just add a character if necessary, but that almost never happens anymore since they don't need to.

The problem here isn't that. The problem is however link rot: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U...ning#Criticism_and_problems

That shortened URL's point to non-existing destinations, and that you can't always easily find out what they were pointing to (some shortening services support this however). There's also the problem if e.g. bit.ly would go bankrupt. Imagine how many links that would break overnight, and no one would know what they were pointing to.

This is a great solution. You last proves why. If bit.ly goes away, all the archived links wont work. For the same thing to happen to links shortened by Twitter, Twitter would have to go away which means accessing those links is pointless anyway. Neither company will be around forever but this way, bit.ly going away wont have an effect on Twitter.