Well, I am back on this one, after I saw a post on Oreilly Radar.
What could be the shortest possible domain name for a URL shortener? I mean, How many minimum number of letters has to be there? It is 4 – two for the domain suffix of the country and one for dot and one letter of our choice – I mean really our choice. There is a site that keeps a unicode character as its first letter: http://tinyarro.ws/ – the “tinyarro” translates to the “arrow” character and so is one letter. :-). But I wonder, if somebody has to type that, how are they going to do it? What’s more, this website wants us to choose the encoded URL string as well – I would say that is bad. One should not leave too much to the user in this case – the act of entering and re-entering (in case one string is already used up) is time consuming – I doubt whether anybody is interested in spending a minute or two in framing a short URL for the link to be posted – definitely not me!
A short de-tour here: There are websites that tell you – as you type – whether a given domain name is available or not. This one, for example. I wonder at the innovative capabilities of people creating businesses. Any business, in my opinion, has two fundamental questions to ask – a) how do you add value and b) how do you generate revenue. May be for non-web2.0 businesses, a implies b, but in general, for the web 2.0 services, that is not the case. “B” has to be thought out even though “a” is more straightforward. In this case, the value added is the ease with which one can find whether a domain name exists or not. AJAX will tell you on the fly about the status of the same. And what about “b” – put the ads of web hosting service providers, domain name registration helpers etc. That sounds to be a sure shot of making business (at least to me).
So, one part of the race is how to make the domain name shorter and another is how to make the URL encoded string shorter. This is more of a technical problem rather than non-technical.
Let’s consider the problem of doing business with shortened URLs: what is the value add to the end user? – use shortened URLs in your tweets or other space constrained services – other than this there is no use. It may cause more harm than benefit to the end user as the user does not know what s/he is clicking. By the way, the one who adds value and the one who pays for the value are not the end user. 🙂 The end user is just a free user of this service. So, naturally, side effects. 🙂 So, who is adding value to whom? The URL shortener is adding service to the other websites – since the click-o-rama now routes through the shortening service, the URL shortener is in a position to explain how much the web traffic is driven by one particular site – the website owners can consume this information, take it as a feedback or complement and improvise the services offered.
Whether or not, there are good uses of URL shortening, there are definitely evil ones – a spammer can use the service just like anybody else to know whether people are clicking on the links or not. One post talks about ten evil uses for URL shortening. It is not necessary that a spammer rely on the service, the spammer can also use the web logs to figure out the same.
In short the issues with URL shortening are – stability, privacy, security, performance etc.