How many times have you wanted to share a link with your Twitter followers but it was too long? Sometimes when you’re chatting with a friend and he’ll send you a link that takes up a whole chat window. Has that ever happened to you? Probably.
To help us in these kinds of situations, “the good people of the Internet” created a tool called an URL shortener. URL or link shorteners will take your long web addresses and give you a simple short URL that will fit into any tweet, won’t break comments or blog posts.
How Do URL Shorteners Work?
The logic behind URL shorteners is simple; take the long URL, process it through a hash function of some kind and generate a short URL which is paired with the long one. Once you request the short URL, the system will look it up in its database and redirect you to the corresponding long URL.
Long and short URL pairs are kept in these databases forever, because you never know when you’re going to need the same link, right? Some URL shorteners keep track of long URLs, so if a large number of users try to short the same URL, they will all get the same short URL.
One of the most useful features of (some) URL shorteners is that you can customize the short URL. Tired of the random string like /XgfR3 – why not get something like /newblog – it’s more memorable and it even looks better.
Why Should I Use URL Shorteners?
Nowadays, link shorteners are mainly used for aesthetic reasons – to keep your messages nice and readable. But there are several more reasons why to shorten your links, no matter how long (or short) they are:
- Long links will break in e-mails, so the recepient will have to select that long, multi-line link, copy it and then paste it into address bar;
- Hiding affiliate links will help you to get points with your affiliate partner. People probably won’t click an affiliate link if they see it, removing the refferal part of the URL;
- Statistics are useful (and mandatory) if you’ve got some kind of an online job. You need to know how many times the link was clicked, which site sends most of your visitors and all other kinds of data (which a lot of URL shorteners give you).
The 4 Most Popular URL Shorteners
Is.gd is a URL shortener which can take up to 5000 character long URLs and compress them into 18 character ones. The interface of the site is basic but it doesn’t need anything more. Just paste the link and click the button.
Once shortened, you’ll have the option to generate a QR code of the link which you can later print on you flyers or business cards. Is.gd will also allow you to create a custom URL and even log statistics for your links.
The true power of is.gd is its bookmarklet, a link that you can place in your bookmark bar. When you want to shorten a web address, just click it and you’ll instantly get the shortened link.
Ow.ly became popular along with HootSuite, a popular web based Twitter application. Since it’s so connected to HootSuite, ow.ly has pretty limited options; just basic shortening and a button for copying the short URL to the clipboard. Before shortening a URL you must enter the CAPTCHA code, which makes it less practical for frequent usage.
If you’re a HootSuite user, you will find ow.ly very practical as it’s implemented into the application and will give you a detailed insight of your links.
Web application developers will love the Fwd4.me’s free API (Application Programming Interface) which can be used in your applications.
The Mother of all URL shorteners is probably bit.ly. Bit.ly is a really powerful tool when it comes to URL shortening and analyzing the links. Once shortened, you can edit the short URL to something custom and more memorable. If you’re a Google Chrome user, there is a bit.ly chrome extension, as well as the bit.ly bookmarklet for any other web browser.
Oh, and the bookmarklet is really something! You can edit the URL, tweet it or send it to Facebook or e-mail, put the link in a bundle and check out stats of the links! What are bundles, you might ask; it’s just a custom made collection of your short links, created for somewhat better management. You should try it out!
Analyzing the links in bit.ly is a feature of its own. You will get all the graphs you will ever need, see the list of the reffering sites and countries where your visitors come from. Bit.ly has its own bitly-powered news app News.me, which Ivan wrote about in an earlier post.
TinyURL is not packed with options, but it is the first URL shortener ever, dating back to 2002. This shortener was very popular in the pre-Twitter era, but other websites have since surpassed TinyURL. When you have to watch out for every character in a 140 limit, is.gd’s 18 character link is much better than TinyURL’s 26 character “short” link.
Nevertheless, TinyURL should be mentioned and should be thanked for starting the short link business.
Who Else is Using URL Shorteners?
A large number of companies use shortened links in their tweets and publications. They use proprietary shorteners and nobody else has access to them, but it would be a shame not to mention these great examples:
- WordPress uses wp.me;
- Mashable uses on.mash.to;
- Facebook uses on.fb.me;
- Time uses ti.me;
- New York Times uses nyti.ms.
Have you spotted any interesting short URLs like the ones mentioned in the article? Let us know in the comments!