The Internet is in an uproar this morning. This uproar will probably be done in the next couple of hours for all but a few select people like the programmers at Twitter and Delicious. The debate? Are URL shorteners good or evil?
URLURI shorteners take a long URL like http://realityme.net/2008/08/21/can-you-rely-on-twitter-for-breaking-news/ which search engines love for the embedded keywords and reduce them to as few characters as possible like http://tinyurl.com/43abj6 which search engines may or may not like. Joshua Schachter has posted about the evils of URL shorteners with a plethora of comment from people on both sides of the fence. Dave Winer, who pioneered RSS, says that URL shortners are risky. Basically the concern is that we are creating a situation where broken links may abound on the Internet. Since two URIs go to the same place, content is being duplicated in search engines and bookmarking services and since some of these services use 301 redirects while others use 302 redirect we have no good way of crediting the link to the source. (301 means the uri has been permanently moved to a new uri, ie. the original long uri, and 302 means that the uri has been temporarily moved meaning the search engine or bookmarking service should record the short uri as the permanent resource). Other concerns revolve around archiving and longevity of these shortening services. If Twurl goes out of business, most of my shortened uris will break. As an example of this, Twurl.nl is no longer Twurl.nl but is now Tweetburner. After reading this analysis of uri shortening services, I don’t think I will be using Twurl/Tweetburner anymore anyway; I love their stats but a 302 redirect is deplorable.
To shorten or not to shorten, that is the question. A proposed solution is that publishers should automatically offer their own shortened URLs which could hurt your searchengine-fu. Personally I am going to keep my long URIs but I think I’ll switch to bit.ly or tinyurl.com while they are using 301 redirects (that is until the day they decide not to use 301 redirects…letting other people control your data is confusing isn’t it?!).
Aside: A URL is a subset of a URI. There is some debate about whether URL has be deprecated or not. See Yuri not Earl.