Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Shrinking Long URLs with Bit.ly and J.mp

The URL shortener space is getting increasingly crowded, with a ton of new and existing companies bringing their offerings to the table. A few come to mind like: is.gd, tr.im, cli.gs and TinyURL. Although not yet for public consumption, Google has even launched its own service called Goo.gl. Google's launch comes on the heels of Facebook having quietly launched its own URL-shortening service called FB.me. Heading there in your browser simply takes you to Facebook's home page, whereas sharing links through Facebook's mobile site will shorten them for you using a shortened FB.me URL. Surprisingly, I've not seen much from Facebook about their new service.

is.gd logo
TinyURL Logo
cli.gs Logo

As usual, I digree.

bit.ly Logo
The one service I've failed to mention, and the one that I use the most ... the focus of today's article is bit.ly. Actually, I use the bit.ly powered j.mp, which's two characters shorter. J.mp ("jump") is in fact bit.ly but with a shorter domain name. You can learn more about it here. And in a World where every character counts (especially on the likes of Twitter), j.mp with the power of bit.ly is the best all around URL-shortener (IMHO, of course).

Although I use bit.ly's j.mp domain, I will be referring to the parent company, bit.ly, from here on.

Besides the basic functionality of shortening URLs, it also provide feature for URL analysis. You can track number of clicks, locations, referrers, time of clicks for any bit.ly URL without having to register, login or install any software. Bit.ly also offers customizable URLs, tracking, 301 redirection and a mobile version among many other features.

Bit.ly is trying to stay ahead of the competition with products like bitly.tv (more on that in a few) and bit.ly Pro, which currently allows a limited set of beta users to create their own branded short URLs. In essence, white-labeling the URL shortening service.

Bitly.tv displays a collage of the most-linked videos (through bit.ly) of the moment. Users can also sort by the top videos from the last day or the last two days. The site looks really slick and is well presented. When you click on a video, a light-box pops out, which plays the video as well as displays a variety of sharing options (Facebook, Twitter, e-mail) and shows a live stream of tweets about that piece of content. The live stream is especially compelling since you can see what other people are saying about the video as you formulate your own opinion.

In addition to powering Twitter (replacing TinyURL), bit.ly is baking into its Web service the Yfrog picture-sharing service made by Imageshack. Yfrog competes with other Twitter-friendly image-sharing services such as Twitpic. Imageshack is what power all of ahmadism.com's image hosting needs for free. For users who want to create easy short links to images they upload from their computers, the integration with Yfrong will be a bit of a time-saver. Also, users will get the real-time click through data from their images on the bit.ly site.

Bit.ly also announced on its blog that Google Reader and Typepad now generate bit.ly links natively.

I'm sure I've only revealed a few of bit.ly's offerings. For example, I know that bit.ly provides a very neat API. If you’re as API driven and like to automate the tasks around you, you’ll be happy to know that there is a new open data table that can shorten URL’s using YQL.

But let's go back to the stats feature for a minute. Did you know that if you put a + (plus) sign at the end of any bit.ly URL, it immediately goes to the info page for that link, displaying all those juicy stats, as opposed to the link itself? For example, for url "http://bit.ly/8ifP7w", open url "http://bit.ly/8ifP7w+", this will redirect to "http://bit.ly/info/8ifP7w" and show all the statistics for this shortened url.

With all this talk about shrinking long URLs, and being a cynic & a skeptic, made me want to see where some of these shortened URLs go before I click on them. Enter a bookmarklet. If you know me, you shouldn't be surprised at the introduction of a bookmarklet.

Get Long URLs

Simply drag the "Get Long URLs" link above to your browser toolbar. Alternatively to dragging and dropping, you could right-click the link and click "Bookmark This Link" in Firefox (my browser of choice), or "Add to Favorites..." in IE. Of course, IE will present you with some blocks to running them, which's why most serious-net-browsers do not use IE.

Short URLs generated by URL shortening services say little about the landing site but this bookmarklet can rewrite all short links on a web page so you know exactly where those links are pointing to. Once bookmarked (in your bookmarks), and you're on a page that that has a shortened URL (like a Twitter page, an email, etc.), click on the bookmarklet and it will convert all those shortened URLs back to their source giving you visibility to the destination.

Do you use a URL shortener? Which one? Tell us in the comments.
ahmadism.com is not affiliated in any way with bit.ly or any other URL shortener. This article was written solely out of experience with the various tools.  ▣

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