2011-01-26

My Twitter pet peeve: URL shortening (and a fix)

I love that Twitter enforces brevity, it only breaks down for one thing: URLs. In order to not waste precious characters, people turn to URL shorteners. Twitter even provides one by default. Shortened URLs such as http://goo.gl/ZeNmF are evil for several reasons:
  • Hidden target: You don’t see where you are going prior to clicking on a URL.
  • Loss of meaning: Good URLs usually contain some human readable information as to what they are pointing to (examples: Wikipedia, Amazon, blogs). With shortened URLs that is gone.
  • Dependence on shortening service: Should the shortening service ever stop working, maybe just temporarily, then the short URLs don’t work.
  • Less robust: Should you lose just one character of a URL, a shortened URL is usually useless, while a full URL can often be fixed.
Ideas for improving the situation:
  • Intermediate solution: Twitter clients could cache the full URLs encoded in each tweet and show them as tooltips.
    • Better yet: Twitter could resolve the full URLs and associate them with a tweet for the clients. That would avoid a lot of traffic.
    • Note that the Twitter web view already shows the expanded URLs (for example here), but only if you use Twitter’s URL shortening service t.co. None of the Twitter apps, that I know of, do this, though.
  • Long-term solution: Twitter could allow one piece of additional data per tweet – a URL. It would be entered via a separate text field or separated from the tweet with a special character. There would still be a limit for the length of the URL but it would be higher, and independent of, the actual tweet content.
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