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We used to call it The Internet…now it’s just Google

We’ve been living in the Wild West of The Internet. The Internet used to mean Gopher, Veronica, Archie, Usenet, MUDs, IRC (Fall ’88), and telnet, none of which used a graphical interface. Everything was done from the command line, UNIX’s equivalent of the DOS prompt. Today my children, as most people, live on a tamer Internet and feel that The Internet is something you look at with Internet Explorer, Firefox or Safari. Chrome users know better. In the past, using a search engine did not mean using Google. Google. How about that Google? Google is doing so well that we have started to aggregate all our services into Google. I know I have. I use GMail, Google Voice, Google Wave, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Reader, and so on. All my data is slowly finding its way to a single company, one which I don’t control. That should scare the pants off of us!

In today’s world of collaboration and information sharing, url shorteners are all the rage. A URL shortener takes a long web address and shortens it to as few characters as possible for sending in SMS messages or making the address easier for someone to type. is the forerunner having secured the default url shortener position with Twitter and Seesmic. is my favorite. Despite being essential tools, Dave Winer makes a good argument for why these URL shorteners are bad for the Internet and offers a fix to their inherent problem. The concept of a URL shortener is simple. You could make your own URL shortening service and WordPress users could make a URL shortener plugin. If you made your own, you’d be in control of your data; a principle I highly encourage despite housing so much of myself in The Cloud.

Today, Google enters the URL shortening scene with Expect this to take off. Expect some struggling shortening services to close doors causing waves of link rot across the Internet. As Google consumes another popular activity, url shortening, do we take one more step to losing The Internet to The Google in the way that online activity prior to The Internet used to be known as CompuServe, Prodigy and AOL? In 5 years, will there still be An Internet or will we simply connect to The Google?

Google URL Shortener at is a service that takes long URLs and squeezes them into fewer characters to make a link that is easier to share, tweet, or email to friends. The core goals of this service are:

  • Stability – ensuring that the service has very good uptime
  • Security – protecting users from malware and phishing pages
  • Speed – fast resolution of short URLs

Google URL Shortener is currently available for Google products and not for broader consumer use.

The Google privacy policy applies to the Google URL Shortener. Please note that Google may choose to publicly display aggregate and non-personally identifiable statistics about particular shortened links, such as the number of end user clicks.

Update: Interestingly enough, yesterday, announced Pro, a service to use’s software but with your own domain name. Take note, this is still giving your data to a 3rd party (The Cloud) but it is a proven service, with a system with very interesting feedback (statistics), and probably far more scalable than something you could build from scratch. Dave Winer revisits his concerns with in Build to Flip?.

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URL Shorteners Causing a Stir

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 which search engines love for the embedded keywords and reduce them to as few characters as possible like 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, is no longer 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 or 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.

Update: 5 Reasons Why URL Shorteners Are Useful