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URL Shorteners Get Some Backup 224

Posted by kdawson
from the keeping-it-real-short dept.
URL shorteners are problematical, as everybody knows, but with the rise of Twitter and its ilk they seem to be a necessary part of the landscape. Some of the biggest questions around services such as bit.ly, TinyURL, and is.gd is what happens when they go out of business (as tr.im did last August). Now a group of such companies, organized under the auspices of the Internet Archive, has formed a non-profit entity to hold URL-shortening databases in escrow, with the intent of continuing to resolve a member company's links should it get out of the business. At announcement, the 301Works organization has 21 URL-shortener members, including the largest, bit.ly. Many others are not (yet) on board. The members have agreed to cede control of their domain names to 301Works.org should they exit the field, and to back up their URL mappings regularly to the organization.
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URL Shorteners Get Some Backup

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  • by Kagura (843695) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @06:33PM (#30101446)

    URL shorteners are problematical, as everybody knows, but with the rise of Twitter and its ilk they seem to be a necessary part of the landscape.

    Seriously?? I know editors frequently get grief for this sort of thing, but come on... the word is problematicalic, for crying out loud. ;)

  • by jonaskoelker (922170) <jonaskoelker&gnu,org> on Saturday November 14, 2009 @06:34PM (#30101470) Homepage

    I have a great proof why this won't work, but it's too long to fit in into a URL :(

  • by gazbo (517111) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @06:36PM (#30101482)
    Sorry, I mean srs bsns.
  • Hopefully bit.ly's commitment will force the other common players (tinyurl, tr.im, etc) to join as well. Bit.ly was the only main player on their list so far. A great next-step would be to get the twitter image sites (twitpic, img.ly, etc) on board as well.

  • Why bother? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RiotingPacifist (1228016) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @06:42PM (#30101542)

    URL shortners only server for twitter posts and other place where you need to count characters, these links become pointless within days of a post (some think they become useless even earlier than that), so why bother preserving them after that? let alone when a provider goes bankrupt.

    p.s I'm only posting this so i can get some karma to go troll apple ;)

    • Re:Why bother? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by badpazzword (991691) <badpazzword.gmail@com> on Saturday November 14, 2009 @07:53PM (#30102144)
      Twitter is not the only place you count characters.

      URLs longer than 80 characters might split in multiple lines in emails. IRC topics also benefit from url shorteners. Nobody will be missing the rickrolls, however ;)
    • by Spad (470073)

      You forgot about the critical function they perform in trolling and rickrolling.

    • by sopssa (1498795) *

      Only time I use url shortening services is when I need to paste a url with cyrillic or non-ascii characters and the program or website doesn't support them. For example Steam breaks the link and cant show characters, so you have a non-working link. Same thing here on Slashdot. For that kind of thing it works ok.

      (tho arguably programs/websites should just fix their goddamn utf-8 support)

  • Will it really (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TorKlingberg (599697) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @06:46PM (#30101562)

    If one of these companies goes bankrupt, their creditors will demand the only valuable asset: the domain name. Does their agreement with 301Works overrule the creditors claims?

    • Re:Will it really (Score:4, Interesting)

      by roju (193642) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @06:54PM (#30101630)

      That's a really good point. They could probably set up a structure to deal with it though. Create up a third company (say URL Inc) and transfer ownership of the domain to it. Give archive.org ownership of URL Inc but have them contract out operation perpetually to the url-shortening company (say bit.ly Inc). Put non-assumability language in the contract, so that a transfer of ownership of bit.ly Inc would terminate the agreement.

      • That would only be effective if they had done that in the first place.

        If they tried to do that now their creditors would cry foul and have the CEO replaced.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by maxume (22995)

      For someone trying to resolve one of the shortened urls, having a working mechanism present on the domain is a lot less important than having the database (for instance, say bit.ly shut down, Twitter could put in place a mechanism where users could press a button and some program would go through their spew and replace all the bit.ly references with something else, having the service running on bit.ly isn't real important for things like that).

    • Re:Will it really (Score:5, Informative)

      by mysidia (191772) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @08:21PM (#30102314)

      Unless they are going bankrupt already, or the creditors have a secured debt, and the domain name is the collateral/security for that debt,

      If they don't, then 301works' claim to the domain would be a prior claim, since they have secured an agreement that requires the URL shortening service to continue working, and a specific asset is named in securing that agreement is the domain name.

      In other words: it depends on the terms of the agreement with 301works.

      In a bankruptcy preceding, the party with the prior claim is normally the one they signed an agreement to deliver the asset to.

      For example: if I buy something from an online retailer or mail order catalog, and they enter into bankruptcy after they received my payment for the item, but before they shipped the product... their creditors' don't get to repossess the item I have purchased, my claim comes before theirs, since my payment to purchase the item is a prior claim that I have.

      And they have to send me the item, or a refund before they pay other creditors whose debts they defaulted on after my claim was raised.

      The key difference: creditors that have a claim to a specific prior claim to a certain asset are at an advantage to the ones that don't.

      Since specific cash to pay for the item in exchange for a certain service was provided by me, I have the prior claim to that cash.

      Banks and investors that provided unsecured loans, or weren't a trading partner, have to wait in line, according to the priority of creditors.

  • by fph il quozientatore (971015) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @06:46PM (#30101570) Homepage
    qkd2f
  • by KalvinB (205500) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @06:47PM (#30101576) Homepage

    running these things?

    $6.99 a year for the domain with free standard hosting from GoDaddy and you're set.

    It's not like it's a particularly difficult task to create and run these types of sites. With a simple cron script to clear out links which haven't been clicked in X amount of days you won't even have to worry about your DB ballooning out of control.

    Throw up Google AdSense on the user facing side to draw in funds and point both GoDaddy and Google at the same bank account. Google giveth and GoDaddy taketh away. Throw in a hundred to start and you're good to go for a decade.

    • by A Friendly Troll (1017492) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @06:55PM (#30101642)

      If your own URL shortener becomes popular (it won't), it will have to serve at least a million clicks per day. bit.ly is currently at around 4-5 per day, I think.

      You can just perform simple redirects, without logging anything... But then you don't have anything even remotely interesting. The natural urge is to log every visit and let people view logs of their links (if you don't, users won't like your shortener). DB storage quickly piles up. A little bit of AdSense won't help you pay the servers, storage and bandwidth.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      There's no reason at all why someone should be running a site for this "service".

      The correct way to do this should be an RFC which would define a standard URL shortening function that can be implemented by all the browsers. Such a shortening function has to be like a hash, but easily reversible. There's certainly no need for a database or list of URLs or a cron script.

      Moreover, when the browser can decode the shortened URL, it won't burden the network with all those useless lookups.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by nedlohs (1335013)

        Great idea.

        Now please take this url:

        http://example.com/insert_hexadecimal_dump_blueray_disc_image_here [example.com]

        and run it through your shortening function.

        Who needs bittorrent!

  • If bit.ly is the largest, I wonder why I haven't heard of it. Granted, once you find one, then it's golden. But I've never seen a bit.ly shortener. I've sone loads of tinyurl.com hashes, but never any bit.ly.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by roju (193642)

      bit.ly is huge on twitter. It has mostly replaced tinyurl there. It became the default url shortener for twitter earlier in the year [readwriteweb.com].

      • by Tellarin (444097)

        This all could be solved by creating a new .gTLD. Say, .lnk or .url; and selling one letter domains with the requisite that they (the buyers of those) share/backup their databases somewhat like this proposed organization.

        Simple and moderately clean.

  • URL shorteners are a scourge. As someone else pointed out, they're only really useful for Twitter, with its artificial post-length constraint. Anyone who links to a tinyurl on an actual Web site (such as Slashdot) should automatically be assumed to be a troll, because the only reason to use an URL shortener is to conceal what you're actually linking to.

    • because the only reason to use an URL shortener is to conceal what you're actually linking to.

      No, the only reason to use them is on systems that can't handle an html anchor tag or similar, because any decent web-enabled system can handle <a href="somelonglink">a short description</a>.

      • by nedlohs (1335013)

        Concealing links is a common use.

        Which links are more likely to be clicked by the people who might be offended/get in trouble by viewing it:

        http://teensex.com/video/Hardcore-Fucking-13300.html [teensex.com]
        http://tiny.cc/FJU5j [tiny.cc]

        • My point is that BOTH of these links are broken. They're supposed to be descriptive human-readable text that go to a url when clicked. You're not supposed to actually see the link at all. Whether people lie in their descriptions is another matter.

          • by nedlohs (1335013)

            But even when you do that you see it when hovering over the link, and there's a group of people who won't click the first but will click the second. Sites like this one of course include the domain name without having to hover...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Afforess (1310263)
      I find bit.ly very useful when I link to a download of some mod or custom content for a game. Adding a "+" symbol in front of the URL easily lets me know how many people have downloaded it, and what countries they were from, which is fairly useful information.
    • They are handy in /. signature blocks, which also have an artificial limit on length.

      • by Toonol (1057698)
        Just FYI, they also discourage people from ever clicking on the link in your sig, because there's no indication where the link really goes.
    • because the only reason that I can think of to use an URL shortener is to conceal what you're actually linking to.

      FTFY. There are a lot of situations in which it's simply easier to use a short URL - the simplest example that comes to mind is when there's a URL you have to type manually or recite by voice - in both cases a short URL is much easier to understand and use.

  • Now, I may be missing something here...

    But can someone enlighten me why it would be "problematic" if such a service would go out of business?

    All they do is redirect to the original url. So where is the loss?
    The original url is still there. If no one is able to find it without using the shortened url chances are pretty big it isn't much interresting anyway.
    • by Tellarin (444097)

      One simple example:

      - You search through your e-mail messages for a link you need (for whatever reason) that some friend of yours sent you.
      - You find the message.
      - The link in the message is actually using a shortened URL.
      - The company that made the redirection is out of business.
      - You are screwed.

      • One simple example:

        - You search through your e-mail messages for a link you need (for whatever reason) that some friend of yours sent you.
        - You find the message.
        - The link in the message is actually using a shortened URL.
        - The company that made the redirection is out of business.
        - You are screwed.

        Why would anyone send an email with a shortened URL? Tweets, sure, text messages, IMs, okay, but email?

  • bit.ly (Score:3, Interesting)

    by palpatine (94) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @07:43PM (#30102032) Homepage

    Does anyone else find it odd that the White House's twitter page uses bit.ly urls when .ly is the top-level domain code for Libya?

  • by Yvan256 (722131) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @08:23PM (#30102328) Homepage Journal

    Some websites have user-friendly URLs, such as "www.apple.com/macmini/". You don't even need to click that link to know what it's about.

    Other websites have dumb, half-friendly URLs, where they add the backend technology inside the URL, such as "http://www.logitech.com/index.cfm/mice_pointers/" (what's with the "index.cfm" in the URL?). If they fix that problem, all the links pointing to the current URL will break. If they ever change technology, it's also going to break the links from other websites.

    And then we have the URLs designed by web monkeys, such as the link for Dell's new Adamo laptop: "www.dell.com/content/topics/topic.aspx/global/products/adamo/topics/en/us/adamo-onyx?c=us&cs=19&l=en&s=dhs". What the HELL is that thing? Even if we forget the parameters at the end, look at the path of that thing! I don't care how your crap is organized on the server, the URL should be much simpler than that!

    And last, we have completely brain-dead URLs that seem to be created for computers only, without any chance of figuring out what kind of content is waiting for us on the other side of that link. Crap like "http://www.sonystyle.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/CategoryDisplay?catalogId=10551&storeId=10151&langId=-1&categoryId=16154&SR=nav:electronics:computers:notebook_computers:shop_compare:ss". We're lucky to see "notebook_computers" in the parameters, sometimes it's just a database reference number.

    But even with crap URLs like that, unless you have to spell it, write it down or read it on a (paper) page, such links can be hidden behind simple anchor text such as Sony Laptops [sonystyle.com].

    Twitter is its own problem, they should be the ones to fix their own mess. Someone could start a service similar to Twitter but without counting HTML code as being part of the X characters limit, which seems to be what the fuss is all about.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by novakreo (598689)

      Other websites have dumb, half-friendly URLs, where they add the backend technology inside the URL, such as "http://www.logitech.com/index.cfm/mice_pointers/" (what's with the "index.cfm" in the URL?). If they fix that problem, all the links pointing to the current URL will break. If they ever change technology, it's also going to break the links from other websites.

      There's no reason why Logitech couldn't issue HTTP 301 redirects from http://www.logitech.com/index.cfm/mice_pointers/ [logitech.com] to a newer, friendlier URL.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      I completely agree, but I have two comments:

      1. For those who don't know, removing the "/index.cfm/*", "/index.aspx/*", "index.php/*", etc is a simple mod_rewrite rule on any Apache server, and I'm certain there are easy fixes on other servers.

        Any decent web dev should be setting that up first, before even thinking about developing a website. Then you can easily change technologies later while maintaining your URLs.

        You should never be able to see the technology of a website in the URL. At a minimum, rew

  • Maybe we could just issue unique IDs for everything on the Internet. I'm not sure how many would be enough. It could be 64-bits, or perhaps even 128, although you can be sure that if we did that some comittee would probably come up with a reason to gobble up bits. Then of course you'd need some bits for private URLs.

    I'm not sure what you call it, but plainly some protocol is needed for all these URLs on the Internet. A kind of... "Internet Protocol", or IP for short. Yeah, that's it. Is anybody workin

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by CarpetShark (865376)

      You would (and DO) call it a Uniform Resource Name, or URN [wikipedia.org].

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by istartedi (132515)

        You're right. I'd read about URNs years ago while reading some other spec. It just seemed to get tucked away in the back of my mind with a lot of other RFC arcana. The people who come up with URL shorteners may or may not known about URNs. If they knew about them, they probably decided to just go ahead with their proprietary version rather than apply to... ummm... wherever you'd apply. That seems like a weakness to the URN scheme. Who has time to jump through whatever beurocratic hoops you'd need to ju

  • by dmomo (256005) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @09:03PM (#30102618) Homepage

    One reason the link-rot threat is very real is the little guy.

    I run a url-shortner (ish) service because it's fun and I can.

    While, I would love to defend url shortners, my advice to a friend would be : don't use these for anything important. They are not to be used in place of bookmarks. If you have a site or a blog.. just use the real URL in the href. You can beautify it any way you would like inside the "Anchor" tag itself. We've been doing that for two decades now.

    Also, the link-rot threat is quite real. SoCuteUrl is simply a fun way to send an otherwise cumbersome link. It's more memorable.. easy to write down, text, etc.

    I run the site because it costs very very little to do so and is a very easy to thing to have set up. And, it's fairly easy to maintain.

    This is where the problem lies. These are so easy to engineer that virtually anyone can do it. Yes, even slackers like myself with a tendency to flake out on personal projects.

    301Works Looks like a decent solution. I will be evaluating it for my own site (socuteurl.com).

    However, the membership fee, which does not exist now could prove problematic. My site makes no money. $1,000 a year may not be a lot of money for a site that makes some kind of profit, but it's a lot to support a hobby.
    I think 301works may have to come up with a better way to support their costs. Since the biggest threat to link rot.. are the sites that don't make money! I think the membership fee if instated should be optional, and donations should be accepted. Or, perhaps the membership fee can be scaled down for sites with small dbs to upload.

    • by dmomo (256005)

      I cannot believe I passed up the opportunity to misspell "problematic" in my own post. :(

  • by bornagainpenguin (1209106) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @10:17PM (#30102986)
    Slashdot covered the benefits of using url-shorteners to reduce bandwidth waste only last March! Everyone is so eager to prove how sophisticated they are and toss hate on an admittedly stupid fad (twitter) that they're prepared to pretend there are absolutely no benefits to using the types of services talked about in the article. I thought this was supposed to be a geek site, not some silly MMORPG where the only thing that counts is how high your comments get rated?

    Remember this [o3magazine.com]?

    There's a reason why people use url-shorteners, and that reason is because they have a benefit to their use! Many of the more savvy tech sites have begun using them internally to save that 'as much as 75MBit/sec of bandwidth [slashdot.org]' mentioned in the Slashdot headline. If there is a group getting together to ensure this usage can continue to live on even after the death of the individual services, so much the better! This should be seen as good news...

    Instead you half-wits decided to forsake any semblance of geek cred you may have had to whine about Twitter... stuff like this and I wonder why I even come here any more!

    --bornagainpenguin
  • And... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Puppet Master (19479) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @12:21AM (#30103694) Homepage
    What happens when 301works.org goes belly up?

    It's not difficult to write your own. I did it (not going to link to it because my server probably won't handle the /. effect.)

    They can't even decide on the name. In their Terms of Participation, they refer to
    themselves as 310works, not 301works. Later they refer to themselves as 201works.
    This does not appear to me to be a very professional company if they can't even proofread their own page...

    And this part gets me:

    Participating companies will be encouraged to place a ‘301Works’ badge on their websites, indicating that they are operating in accordance with these terms of participation. We will generate these badges so they will include the 301works logo and the company’s logo.

    They get free advertising on all of these sites. And last section says they *MAY* impose a fee later, like a $1000/year....

    I'm providing my services for free, no guarantees, warranties or promises. If I go belly up, well, to bad... But with their proofreading "skilz" and free advertising, and possibly charging a fee later on, I think I'll pass.

  • by ozzee (612196) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @01:54AM (#30104180)
    I've been using e44.us [e44.us] running on Google App Engine. I think it will be around for a while as it custs nothing except registration fees to run atm.

    The source code is available on e44.us/1 [e44.us].

    You can "log in" with your gmail account so one day you can edit your short links.

    Anyhow, it's a simple app for now but if there is interest in a "community" OSS project, we can add cool features like, make personalized forms of the app (urls like e44.us/fred/1) or even your own domain (which you can do now with a Google Apps account), optimize it for mobile phones, validate access to URL's etc etc. If you're interested, let me know.

  • by Bertie (87778) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @08:55AM (#30105054)

    How's about Twitter just stops imposing a stupid arbitrary limit on post size, and then we wouldn't need these horrible services?

    The SMS message length is a red herring - when was the last time you saw a phone that couldn't handle multiple messages strung together? And I know it has the side benefit of encouraging brevity and stopping people using it like a full-blown blog, but honestly, there's no need - Facebook status messages don't have a length limit (that I've hit, anyway) and I don't see anybody knocking out War And Peace in there, because it's just not the medium for that sort of thing.

  • by brucmack (572780) on Monday November 16, 2009 @03:44AM (#30112830)

    Why can't someone build a purpose-built compression algorithm for URLs, so we can skip the URL shortener providers entirely? URLs contain lots of oft-occurring constructs, so I would think a reasonably good compression ratio could be attained.

    Take a URL like http://is.gd/XXXXX [is.gd] - that's 18 characters where only 5 are being used to reference the URL. Couldn't a generic URL compressor do a better job on most URLs of reasonable length? Then we could build inflate support directly into the browser and skip the URL shortener entirely.

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