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Why Twitter's T.co Is a Game Changer 109

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the everyone-wants-a-piece-of-that dept.
macslocum writes "If Twitter is so inclined, the company could turn the new t.co shortening service into a powerful analytics tool that solves the marketing and tracking issues of off-site engagement."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Why Twitter's T.co Is a Game Changer

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  • Just what we need (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Another way for marketers to track your usage.
    • by 0123456 (636235) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:43AM (#33561728)

      On the plus side, if all marketers are using the same domain for tracking URLs, then it only takes one line in /etc/hosts to block them all.

      And am I the only one who just does not click on any 'shortened' URL because you never know what it's going to take you to? OK, so www.fluffybunnies.com could still take me to a goatse site, but it's far less likely to do so.

      • by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:54AM (#33561832)

        And am I the only one who just does not click on any 'shortened' URL

        You aren't the only one. I won't click on them either. I probably wouldn't go to your fluffybunnies url either and tend to stick to just the few I have 'whitelisted' in my brain. A certain citrus celebration themed URL comes to mind when discussing URLs that sound safe on paper...

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by cain (14472)

          A certain citrus celebration themed URL comes to mind

          Yeah - I can't stand those a-holes either [facebook.com]. F--kin douchebags.

        • by nametaken (610866) *

          I use them, because they have their use. I just tend to use ones that don't involve user tracking and always give someone a heads-up on where they're going.

          That said, there are plenty of url shortening services that have analytics built in. HootSuite is a popular one for business users.

          • by SETIGuy (33768)

            Why should we believe your "heads-up"? It's not like goatse trolls tell you where they are taking you (although they usually use an unmangled URL).

            As a matter of fact, why don't goatse trolls use shortened URLs?

            Anyhow, clicking on a shortened URL can get you fired, arrested or divorced. Why would you do it?

            • by Jedi Alec (258881)

              Anyhow, clicking on a shortened URL can get you fired, arrested or divorced. Why would you do it?

              Because I trust the source...which is a very small group of people.

        • by houghi (78078)

          How do you know if a URL will produce a 301 error? Because that is what they do. So all you should be able to do is get a message of where a redirect is send to and ask permission to do so. Or in case of TinyURL enable the preview.

      • Or you could just not click on the short link. I mean...the host file solution would work to but it's not l like they can track you if you don't click on the link. And since you're already not clicking on the link maybe you shouldn't both with the host file.
        • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

          Yes, but, what about my wife and kids. Blocking access at the router allows me to enforce my ideology on my family. While I'm at it, I might as well impose my ideology on any wifi router I come across that still uses the default password.....

          It wouldn't be hard to turn this game-changer into a non-starter if all the hackers and admins out there decided to band together.

      • by TarMil (1623915)
        Seriously guys, I don't know who your connections are, and what their mental age is, but personally I haven't seen any shortened goatse-alike for ages.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by hierophanta (1345511)
        i click on anything i feel like - and my usage is tracked by the governmental organization i work for. the solution is no-script and a firewall that works. come on, we are supposed to be nerds - how is not clicking an option?
        • by Machtyn (759119)
          We are nerds; and, as such, tend to use wise judgment on how we want to spend our time ;^)

          If one likes spending their time waiting for combofix and whatever else scanning their PCs for an hour, then fine, that person may click that link. I'd rather engage in other nerd-like tendencies...

          /Mom! Where's that sammich! The Beast is gettin' hungry in his lair...
      • by Compaqt (1758360)

        Since my main browser has Javascript turned off, I'm a little less concerned about where it'll go. Also, Firefox and Chrome have malware protection lists these days.

      • Un-bit.ly links (Score:4, Informative)

        by InvisiBill (706958) <slashdot@@@invisibill...net> on Monday September 13, 2010 @01:18PM (#33563662) Homepage

        Check out the Browser Extensions section of http://bit.ly/pages/tools [bit.ly] for an addon that will show you the unobfuscated links. As an example, here's a bit.ly link for my site: http://bit.ly/bHnUhd [bit.ly]

        I would expect similar tools to pop up for any URL shortening service that becomes decently popular.

        • by IBBoard (1128019)

          What, you mean like ChromeMUSE [google.com] for Chrome/Chromium, which uses longurl.org and a local cache to expand links from lots of services, and can even expand the text if you want? Firefox has similar extensions, but the ones I've found there (for use on the wife's computer) tend to be "hover and we'll show it in the tooltip" rather than "we'll expand everything".

      • I the only one who just does not click on any 'shortened' URL because you never know what it's going to take you to?

        this is why I like tinyurl and the fact that you it gives you a chance to preview the target URL.

        I am surprised it has taken twitter so long to do their own shortener - I've suggested it quite a few times in the past - and also recommend they rewrite old tweets to replace shortened URLs where possible. OK, sucks to be bit.ly and others, but all shorteners need to accept they're just a h
    • Re:Just what we need (Score:4, Interesting)

      by HTH NE1 (675604) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:35AM (#33562330)

      I dislike unnecessarily shortened URLs. It's like people who will abbreviate every word they can in a text message when they're not sending anything near the limit. (Or worse, in contexts where there are no such limits.) Now there are programs for tweeters that will automatically shorten every embedded URL this way. I'd much rather they only shorten them when needed.

      Meanwhile news sites should be paying attention to which stories get more traffic and proactively provide their own short paths to the story for purposes of tweeting.

      And if Twitter wanted control over shortening services, they should just adopt their own syntax for it. "^code" could be remapped in their own database to hyperlink on display, mouse-over could still expand before following, and would take far less space than "http://T.co/code". And they still could do it through a redirection URL so they can track click-through like FARK.com does, using scripting to rewrite the status bar to hide the full redirection URL.

      Unless they really want to track the sharing of the links off-site, just to have the most information possible. (And the Referer [sic] header handles differentiation there.) Then they could combine it all: ^code in sight maps to http://t.co/code [t.co] cite which redirects to site, with mouse-over showing full site's URL cite to user's sight, but copying the link and pasting gets the tico code cite.

      • by omnichad (1198475)

        I think it's a fair compromise with the multi-platform nature of Twitter. Twitter was originally designed as interaction between cell phones and their 160 character limit. They are now trying to incorporate metadata for syndication along with the 140 characters, but they need a compatible way to send that info. Most Twitter services will display the full URL rather than the t.co URL. But devices and services limited to the original 140 character limit on Twitter will use the t.co abbreviation - and http [http]

      • by Tetsujin (103070)

        I dislike unnecessarily shortened URLs.

        Yeah, seriously.

        There's this online shop I buy stuff from - they've been around a long time. They've got a three letter domain in .com - yet rather than host shorthand links on their own site when they post stuff to Twitter, they use bit.ly and save one character of space. Less than that when you consider, if they did their own shortening, their URLs would only have to be unique for their own content... So instead of "http://bit.ly/" followed by five characters they could have "http://---.com/" followed

      • I completely agree. And I've always done this (only shortened URLs when I absolutely need to) without even thinking about it before I read your post right now.

        I also totally agree about annoying people who abbreviate everything all the time, almost as much as I hate people who use "write" in dialect.

        I think the main problem with Twitter is that who ever created Twitter didn't seem to know what they were doing (and still don't - just look at the whole OAuth thing). Twitter could have been a great service if

    • Re:Just what we need (Score:4, Informative)

      by GrumblyStuff (870046) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:41AM (#33562432)

      Not only that, any links via URL shorteners are rendered useless if the service goes down.

      • Any service is invalid when it goes down. Why give a url at all? That host could go down, rendering your link invalid.

        More realistically - the original content remains valid even if the shortener goes down. All a shortener does is provide a convenience (especially useful when the recipient has to type a url manually). If you're using it to provide the sole and permanent record of a resource location, you're doing it wrong.

        it's also not particularly hard to find a plugin that fetches the destination ur

        • That host could go down, rendering your link invalid.

          archive.org, google cache.

        • My point is that URL shorteners obfuscate their content.

          Yes, the host could go down and all the content goes down but now there's another link in the chain with all the weaknesses and none of the strengths. If they mirrored the content, the story would be different. In their current form, it's just something else to fail.

        • Any service is invalid when it goes down.

          I think the point GrumblyStuff was trying to make is url shortening services create an additional point of failure. So if Twitter starts using T.co for all of its links and then there's a problem with T.co, then *no* links on Twitter will work anymore until the problem is resolved. If you had used the original url, then the link would still be functional.

          Of course, that's probably not world-ending stuff, but it's something to keep in mind when using these services. If bit.ly closed its doors, for exampl

          • Bit.ly, at least, has promised archive.org a full dump of their database in the event that they go out of business. IIRC, YMMV.

        • by Tetsujin (103070)

          Any service is invalid when it goes down. Why give a url at all? That host could go down, rendering your link invalid.

          Right, but by using a URL shortener, you've added a second possible point of failure. So instead of your content being unavailable when your site is down, your content is unavailable when your site is down and also when the shortening site is down.

      • +30 insightful it should be :p

  • *shrug* (Score:4, Interesting)

    by garcia (6573) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:41AM (#33561702)

    From the article:

    This is why short URLs are so important. URLs survive the share. Because the interested reader is forced to go to the URL shortener to map the short URL to the real one, whoever owns the shortener sees the engagement between the audience and the content, no matter where it happens. That's why URLs are the new cookies.

    As long as you keep the URL shortened and are sharing it on Twitter. What about when you cross those boundaries and share on Facebook (which is the biggest social network) or e-mail or chat or whatever? Once you take the ball out of Twitter's court the analytics become useless from t.co--just like any other URL shortener.

    This is a non-issue for the privacy geeks as they'll just share the original URL and not do it via Twitter.

    Honestly, Twitter traffic is fairly useless for anyone as the visitors tend to be one-time flybys who spend less than a few seconds on your endsite and just end up lowering your time on site and raising your bounce metrics. If you want engagement you better be using some other network to get your funnel working the way you want.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 0123456 (636235)

      The fun part about this article is that the text and comments appear to show that marketers realise we hate them but the continue to do these things anyway.

      I believe we have a name for people like that?

    • Re:*shrug* (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:49AM (#33561786) Homepage Journal

      I never click on a shortened link. You never know when it migh be a redirect to goatse.cx or worse.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by gatzke (2977)

        Worse than goatse? Example, please...

        • Re:*shrug* (Score:5, Funny)

          by thijsh (910751) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:12AM (#33562060) Journal
          I dare you to click (NSFA): http://bit.ly/4ieaw [bit.ly] :-)
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by hierophanta (1345511)
            Scientology? that's hilarious. see my previous comment - safe clicking enabled by no-script and a firewall that works
            • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

              by gamricstone (1879210)
              I have never visited the above site before, and currently have no-script enabled in firefox. The above page still automatically redirects for me. I've purged my whitelist of any websites I don't frequent, but am still unable to cancel the redirect. So I ask, how did you configure no-script not to redirect from the above url? *Note I have visited sites before where the redirect was canceled by no-script, listing the targeted url for redirect.
        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          Tubgirl maybe? If you can't think of something more revolting than goatse, I envy your lack of imagination.

      • by garcia (6573)

        use Brizzly for Twitter. It automatically expands most shortened links for you. No more goatse--or worse (tubgirl?)

        • Bonus: it screws up the analytics, since your viewer is effectively clicking on every shortened URL (in order to fetch the proper URL) even though you actually click on none.

      • Re:*shrug* (Score:4, Funny)

        by Xacid (560407) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:40AM (#33562400) Journal

        Win. I personally hate them. So much that I feel like posting this even though I know it adds no value.

      • by Derkec (463377)

        It's a matter of trust. If someone I trust sends me a shortened link, or posts via a blog or twitter, then I'll follow that link if what they're talking about seems interesting. Never been burned. Helps not to trust 13 year olds that would send you to goatse.cx. And to answer the obvious retort: Part of that trust is the likelyhood that this person does things that result in their account being hacked.

      • by houghi (78078)

        I never click on a shortened link. You never know when it migh be a redirect to goatse.cx or worse.

        That is why TinyURL has a previeuw you can enable: http://tinyurl.com/preview.php [tinyurl.com] (Not a shortend link)
        Advantage is that the originator has no influence on it. Disadvantage is that it is needed for each and every different redirector.

        A way around is is to edit how the 301 error is handled. Instead of directly going to the new page, first show where it is going. This should be done by the browser. Even

      • I never click on a shortened link. You never know when it migh be a redirect to goatse.cx or worse.

        Alternatively, you could just use an appropriate tool [mozilla.org] for the task.

        personally I find them a convenient thing to have - especially in those situations where copy-paste isn't an option.

      • I click on a lot of shortened links and I've never had it redirect to goatse.cx or worse, so I don't know what type of internet sites you're hanging around on.

      • by GiMP (10923)

        This is why I suggested a DNS-based URL shortening service. Of course, visually, the URL is the same, but resolution to the destination is dead-simple, easily implemented, and even easily resolved *manually* by users with nslookup or dig. It is also federated and cacheable. I implemented this, wrote an IETF proposal, an implementation, and decided to buy and set up 6o.to [6o.to] which is currently active, although not terribly popular.

    • by onion2k (203094)

      Honestly, Twitter traffic is fairly useless for anyone as the visitors tend to be one-time flybys who spend less than a few seconds on your endsite and just end up lowering your time on site and raising your bounce metrics. If you want engagement you better be using some other network to get your funnel working the way you want.

      Going by my own experience I'd say that isn't unique to Twitter traffic at all. Most social network traffic tends to be interested in a single content element rather than exploring t

    • HTTP referrer tells where a user came from to generate and retrieve a shortened URL. That allows shortening services to track activity by domain.

    • by soliptic (665417)

      Honestly, Twitter traffic is fairly useless for anyone as the visitors tend to be one-time flybys who spend less than a few seconds on your endsite and just end up lowering your time on site and raising your bounce metrics. If you want engagement you better be using some other network

      Do you have analytics data behind that statement? Assuming you do, from what kind(s) of business? (Something vague like "major US household consumables e-commerce" if you don't want to give out your workplace).

      This isn't a [citation needed] snark, I'm just curious because recently someone claimed the exact opposite - that they see traffic from twitter as having a much higher conversion rate than any other network, which surprised me. For reference, this person was a musician, so conversions = buying mp3s

      • by garcia (6573)

        This isn't a [citation needed] snark, I'm just curious because recently someone claimed the exact opposite - that they see traffic from twitter as having a much higher conversion rate than any other network, which surprised me.

        It depends on their definition of "conversion" and from what I've read on the topic their definition is much different than what I use. I have a feeling their standard is clicking the link and doing something stupid like heading through their lame pagination setup.

        When these "convers

  • Yet another great reason to avoid twitter.
  • by metrometro (1092237) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:48AM (#33561774)

    Twitter, long described as a "semi-open" platform, whatever that means, will now proceed to become a case study in the difference between actually open (user-owned, peer-to-peer) and not at all open (corporate owned, centralized) in modes of communication.

  • If t.co is only used on twitter, then it shouldn't provide them any new information. They should already be able to determine what link someone clicked on: shortened or not - their URL service or a competitor. t.co only helps them if people use it outside twitter. If they aren't currently collecting click analytics on Twitter, then that is their own fault. Not a lack of their own URL shortening service.
    • by mattdm (1931)

      What this lets them do is track what happens after tweets are re-published onto Facebook.

    • But URL shortening service can be used anywhere, since what it does is generate hash and do url redirection. Myself I prefer tn0.eu which is even better the other's and gives web developers an API to integrate into their websites.
  • by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:55AM (#33561846) Homepage

    If Twitter would just let you attach a URL to each tweet as metadata (like the user name or time it was sent), no one would need any of these stupid URL shortening services. Think! URLs that would work next year when 3 of those services disappear.

    I know Twitter was designed with the limitations of SMS in mind, but most recent phones seem to support longer multi-part SMS messages, and most people seem to use a twitter client on their phone now instead of the SMS gateway.

    Fix the root problem, don't apply another band-aid. By making all the links go through Twitter as a passthrough, they could get this marketing data they want.

    • by gbjbaanb (229885)

      yeah right.. cos you're restricted to 128 characters for twitter, but your URL is likely to be slightly longer. A bit like the huge disclaimers on emails that say 1 line of content.

      eg.

      http://www.frankfurt-airport.com/content/frankfurt_airport/en/news/world_s_first_hootersrestaurantatanairportopensatfrankfurtairpor.html [frankfurt-airport.com]

    • by rumith (983060)
      Wrong. Twitter doesn't treat the username as metadata - it's still limited by that SMS size. From the help center [twitter.com]:

      Your username can contain up to 15 characters. Why no more? Because we append your username to your 140 characters on outgoing SMS updates and IM messages. If your name is longer than 15 characters, your message would be too long to send in a single text message.

      Your real name can be 20 characters long. Although your username may contain only 15 characters, many real names exceed 15 characters. Since we rarely send real name info via text message (except when using the WHO IS command) we added extra characters for folks (like Konstantin Gredeskoul) with longer names. Real names are also used in follow notification and request emails to help accurately identify folks with user names like cupcake25.

    • and then the database has to handle metadata for every message. forcing a 140 char limit allows for the database optimization required to run such a site free of charge.

      the root problem IS YOU.

    • by blair1q (305137)

      The root problem is that you think you need more than 140 characters to do what Tweets are designed to do.

      Hint: Twitter is not /.

      • The root problem is that you think you need more than 140 characters to do what Tweets are designed to do.

        Since when do people use a tool for what it's designed to do? Certainly not hackers.

        • by blair1q (305137)

          Shirly.

          But while I will use a screwdriver as a hammer when a hammer isn't handy, I won't phone up Sears and say they need to make their screwdrivers with claw peens.

          • by Tetsujin (103070)

            Shirly.

            But while I will use a screwdriver as a hammer when a hammer isn't handy, I won't phone up Sears and say they need to make their screwdrivers with claw peens.

            Actually, I called and asked them about this. They say I should try the screwdrivers from their hammers section.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by mysterons (1472839)
      oh you mean twitter annotations http://techcrunch.com/2010/06/02/twitter-annotations-testing/ [techcrunch.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward

    So Twitter has a new service called T.co and you're not calling them out for trademark infringement, Taco?

  • I foresee people calling t.co "taco"
  • How do you pronounce "T.co"

    Is the period silent? Do I say "dot"? Do I make a clicking sound like in those African languages?

  • If they'd just quietly used javascript to track external clicks would anyone notice/care? Sounds like Twitter will have a new database filled with personal data that's worth a lot of money to the right people - but a PR shenanigan from doing it discreetly might stop people from spilling all their data into Twitter's company value. Where's the 'game change'?
  • by whencanistop (1224156) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:36AM (#33562356) Homepage Journal
    From TFA:

    If you're a nosy marketer, it gets worse. We're moving from a browser-centric to an app-centric world. Every time you access the Internet through a particular app -- Facebook, Gowalla, Yelp, Foursquare, and so on -- you're surfing from within a walled garden. If you click on a link, all the marketer sees is a new visit. The referring URL is lost, and with it, the context of your visit.

    This isn't true. All these sites do a 301 redirect (well bit.ly certainly does [bit.ly]) so you won't lose the referrer or the context. Really this doesn't do a lot for the analytics of a site, apart from it is going to help Twitter work out how many people have clicked on which type of link (and if you're logged, who you are). It's giving them some more ammunition for contextual advertising.

    • by EkriirkE (1075937)

      In my referral log I see many facebook links which, when I check them out, are the "You are about to leave the walled garden on facebook.com" page. I am unable to see where the actual link was posted within the realm of facebook.

  • The one thing they can do that nobody else can -- because they're the message bus -- is to rewrite tweets in transit.

    And if they do this they go straight from, "Doesn't seem all that great, but I might find a use for it at some point" to, "I will never, ever send a single message via this medium.".

    That's extremely dangerous ground, I don't think even your average user is going to be happy about their messages being rewritten, much less the trend-setters with thousands of followers who are the source of Twitter's popularity.

    I remember thinking a while back, "It would be nice if one of the more open alternatives had a chanc

  • Supposedly, URL shorteners were originally invented in order to allow adding URLs to email without the email clients adding line breaks and messing up the URLs. I remember that being a nuisance, but I haven't tested a long URL in an email in a while. Wouldn't it be easier to just fix clients so they'd handle long URLs properly?

    • by WWWWolf (2428)

      People still use them if they need to mention long URLs over phone. I occasionally see them in TV and in video blogs (because clickable YouTube-style hyperlink annotations are not part of the video standards, you know.)

      Basically, there are still places where gigantic URLs are still a pain in the rear.

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