Shortening of URLs and a quite worrisome future for the web

While link-shortening might seem like a brilliant idea, not to mention a huge benefit for the user – it raises a few questions-marks and issues which should not be taken lightly. Especially in a context where more and more users start their own shortening-services.

Here is a few general questions to ask yourself:

How will we archive the web?
As sites today are centralized around links, it will be a problem archiving websites for the future – how can one determine where a link will end up as it will be cloaked by a third party service? And how will robots be able to know which links to follow (internal) or which links to ignore (external)?

Is it really a smart idea to solely rely on a third party service?
A third party service is not something that should be considered to be constant, it might not be the best of ideas to pipe all your internal and external links through a service. As with any service, uptime is not at 100%, not even at Google.

No visual confirmation
Endpoints of links can often be determined by simply looking at a link, something that’ll take you to redtube.com/x/y/z is probably not something you should click on while at work. Though, the link above could easily be cloaked as bit.ly/zyx.

Validity of the link and service
Sure, today we can trust that Bit.ly, shurl etc will take you to the links intended endpoint. But what happens if one of the services are bought by, say, a porn or spam company? The purchaser will have unconditionally control over hundred thousands of links on hundred of thousand website, giving them the right to point the link wherever they see fit or quite possibly to the highest bidder.

Tipping the balance of the webs relevance
Keep in mind that we live in a link-economy, where your website relevance is partially judged by how many links in-links your website has. Using shortening-services on outbound links will “rob” the endpoint of it’s relevance in Google, and it’s quite likely that you will loose the same based on people not linking you directly.

With subsequent services like Twitter it’s important to save those bits, but the use of a third party solution might not be the most beneficial idea. Shortening-services should be used with care and concern.

On the bright side there have been talks about a link consortium, where all shortening-services reports their links to a central place/database where one can do legacy lookup of links. It might be the solution, though it’s far away.

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