If you’re on the web, you’ve seen them. They take really big URLs and make them smaller. There are a couple of really good reasons to do this. For example, my blog from yesterday was located here: http://dougpete.wordpress.com/2010/02/23/a-new-way-to-browse-bookmarks/ That’s a nice URL. But, how do you explain to people how to get there? It’s particularly challenging when you do it in a conversation. Is that a slash or a back-slash? (I never really understood which was which…) Is that a dash or a hyphen (duh) or is that an underscore? It’s slightly better when you send it via email or on a webpage as all that the recipient has to do is click a link. But, even then, sometimes formatting in an email message breaks the original link and they’re stranded.
Fortunately, there’s a better way. Using a URL shortener, you can take all of this long text and shrink it to something considerably shorter. The exact same link above , using the bit.ly shortener is: http://bit.ly/aLfFQi Just send that link to your friends and the bit.ly service translates the shorter link into the original large link and then on to the desired. It’s a really slick way to handle things and make it easier to communicate internet addresses to others. When working in a Twitter environment where every keystroke counts, it’s absolutely crucial. It’s very efficient and gets the job done nicely.
I use the Seesmic Desktop for my Twitter browsing and it supports bit.ly in addition to is.gd, snurl.com, tr.im, and twurl.nl. They all do a great job and, in the beginning, I didn’t really care which one I used until I really discovered how this works.
On the surface, what appears to happen is that you kick a link, it takes an extra hop to go to your shortener to get the real address, and then off to the real address. For most people, that’s probably enough. And yet, there’s so much more.
Have you ever gone to http://bit.ly? It’s a real website but you might be intrigued when you get there and see that you can “Create an Account”. When you do so, it opens a whole new world to the concept of a URL shortener. Remember that extra hop that you’ve created? Well, while your clickers are making that extra hop, statistics are being collected about the link.
Over the weekend, I posted an entry called “A Moment to Learn”. It was in support of the presentation that I gave at the OTF retreat dealing with Twitter. I use Twitterfeed to scrape my blog entry to a post on Twitter and I’ve let Twitterfeed know about my bit.ly account so that it gets shortened there. In return, I get some wonderful statistics about people that click the bit.ly link to get to the blog. Here’s a picture.
So, at the time that I captured this image, 56 people had gotten to it through a bit.ly link. (RSS and direct readers don’t get added to the total). 28 of them came from a Canadian IP address; 16 from the US, etc. My friend @pbeens had twittered out the link to my presentation and supporting blog entry. My other friend, @kellypower had retweeted it. There were actually four instances on Twitter making reference to the original shortened link.
By consolidating my shortening to this one service and using my account there, I have greater insights into how any link that I post in this manner is received by those who care to use it. I find it very insightful and certainly it’s easy to set up and use.
It’s well worth the time and effort to learn and understand. You’ll understand better how people are receiving your content. Ever the teacher, if you use bit.ly with your and your students’ web content, you’ll once again be able to illustrate that you’re not anonymous when you’re on the internet browsing around. There’s a great deal of information that is shared about your browsing.