The Long Future of Short URLs

By Babar Bhatti on February 20, 2010

Hardly a week goes by without a new url shortener service showing up in our twitter streams. In the last year or so, brands, technology product companies and publishers have realized the importance of short URLs. Providers of the short URL services are trying to control their customer’s behavior, loyalty and information. Some of the recent ones include cot.ag by Cotweet and ow.ly by Hootsutie. The one by FourSquare, 4q.com is another one rising in popularity. Publishers such as Tech Crunch have started using white-label version such as one offered by bit.ly. Google created a big splash when it announced its own goo.gl shortener for blogs and feedburner. It is surprising that it took a while for Facebook (fb.me) and Google a while to enter the URL shortening game. One thing is for sure: these short URLs will see more innovative uses and will be with us for a long time.

These “free” services are not without a price tag – all of these silos and ‘control’ over information create issues for users and curb the appeal of adoption by business.

Businesses, brands and marketers want to get the answer to simple question such as: which links are more popular and how is traffic flowing from one channel (e.g. Twitter) to their target sites. Ideally no one wants to be tied down to one service or tool for the information on content created or consumed through their channels. Here are the top needs from any url shortener service:

  • Stability and availability of service (quick resolution, uptime)
  • Breadth and depth of usage information (source, referrer location, time etc)
  • Access to the information via API
  • Security (protection from malware and phishing pages – see this post from BusinessWeek) and privacy

Here’s one view of how MutualMind allows preview of short URLs. This is part of our all-in-one analytics philosophy. We hope that more of the popular shortening services will open up their APIs, even if it is for a fee.

For a comparison of the market share of these services, see this ranking based on numbers reported on a post by Mashable in January 2010. With the fast pace at which new services are coming, I am sure the numbers have changed a bit but still, its a good benchmark.

A quick scan of the web reveals that there is frustration about this. Brad Feld recently wrote an interesting post about this: Short URL’s Are Entertainingly Out of Control. Brad writes about the confusing path that he took:

Oh – and my stats are totally foobared. I’ve got partial stats about click throughs in Bit.ly, Awe.sm, and Google Analytics. I realize this is totally self imposed as I shift from shortener to shortener, but I’m just trying to get to the nirvana of (a) using a shortener that I want (fndry.gr), (b) not having to do anything to shorten a URL (e.g. I want it integrated into my workflow), and (c) having stats about click throughs.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/jratkins85 jratkins

    So it looks like Bit.ly is the leader by my perception and the stats.

  • Kristina

    This is very interesting and a huge opportunity for the right provider.

  • http://www.whoisbid.com Whoisbid

    I look forward to the day that I can have my own url shortening service ;) Any offers?