Shortening the folly: an attempt

Tuesday, 14 Apr 2009 [Friday, 23 Jul 2010]

In the last couple of days there has been some hubbub about link shortening services, started by a declaration by Joshua Schachter which I fully agree with. To my dismay, it has resulted in a flurry of terrible ideas being devised and marketed via the web equivalent of a flash mob. I consider the whole thing a tempest in a teapot.

People started complaining about link shortening services for no other reason than Twitter, which automatically uses TinyURL for links past a certain length, whether you ask it to do so or not – unless you preempt that by shortening the URI yourself. (Yes, more generally the reason is microblogging, but the platforms other than Twitter are 1) open and 2) do not have significant uptake. So whether you care about them or not, in either case they are not of concern.) And I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that Twitter is not going to implement rev="canonical" or rel="shorturl" or any other of the proposals.

Now, people have suggested that Twitter should simply implement their own shortening service. That way, the availability of links within tweets would be identical to the availability of those tweets themselves. This seems like the blindingly obviously correct solution to me. Nothing else makes any sense. A proliferation of link shortening services is bad for the web as a whole. This is, to my mind, an incontrovertible statement. Therefore, to devise technological solutions to manage increasing proliferation seems like an equally obvious folly – or under ideal outcomes, a waste of time.

Update: Twitter will do exactly as predicted.

People, of course, are eager to paint the link shortening shed. It’s fun to engage the inventor brain, no matter how ill-advised the pursuit – the entire software industry serves as proof of this.

I am convinced that if Twitter were to implement the outlined Twitter-centric approach, the entire debate would evaporate post haste. Conversely, so long as Twitter does nothing about it, it will merrily continue to generate hot air. Hot air I am fairly certain it is because if and when Twitter do in fact do something, it is highly unlikely to involve any of the proposals based on link relations.

This tar pit has sucked up far too much of the creative energies of smart people in just the week or so since it arose.