Easier online navigation
This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on September 9, 2005
One of the challenges about writing about the Internet is steering readers to interesting pages often, these pages are deep into a site and/or are generated by a database, and in either case end up with URLs that are dozens of characters long.
Who wants to type all that in? Plus, the chance of error is greater the longer (and less intuitive) the address is.
Recently, while writing about congressional efforts to regulate video games, I wanted to steer readers to an article in the Los Angeles Times written by Steven Johnson. The URL for that article is www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-johnson27jul27,0,1432940.story?coll=la-news-comment-opinions. Not the most user-friendly of Web addresses, is it?
But that's not the link I provided my readers.
Instead, I steered them to tinyurl.com/babao, which takes them (and you) to the same place.
How did I do this?
As simple as copying and pasting the original lengthy URL into the a form at tinyurl.com and clicking a button labeled Make TinyURL!
How it works
Brad Fikes, who wrote this column some years ago, has been using TinyURL links in his North (San Diego) County Times column for at least the last year. I finally got around to seeing what it was he was up to.
It's basically a simple redirection service. The fact that it's completely free indicates that it must be possible with fairly few resources (i.e., it's cheap).
There are both an Amazon.com and a PayPal donation box on the home page if you like what they're doing, and Google Ads as well.
Maybe that's enough. The home page touts more than 8.5 million Tiny URLs in use already. With that kind of traffic, you can probably generate some decent revenue from your Google Ads.
There isn't any real background information on the folks behind it, other than a copyright for Gilby Productions, and a link to the Gilby Web site. That turns out to be the Web site of one Kevin Gilbertson, unicycling enthusiast (really).
If a free service can be said to have competition, then there are other URL-shortening services out there, although none seem to be nearly as omnipresent on the 'Net as TinyURL. Yahoo actually has an entire category of "URL Shortening" in its directory. ().
Shall we shorten that to tinyurl.com/j?
(The above url, with just "j" in the tinyurl domain, tells me that once a Tiny URL is created, it is saved and so when I typed in the Yahoo link, I was simply fed the existing Tiny URL for that link. You gotta love database technology ...)
Anyway, there are about a dozen, with a couple that are just as good, just as easy to use as TinyURL.
SnipURL is functionally interchangeable with TinyURL. A recent column I wrote in the North County Times has the URL of nctimes.com/articles/2005/08/04//news/columnists/trageser/20_04_298_3_05.txt; SnipURL shortened that to snipurl.com/gqzv.
Make a Shorter Link took the above North County Times link and gave back makeashorterlink.com/?D68F22F8B.
Shorl.com came up with shorl.com/jafrubralusteste for my column.
Notlong.com uses a different method; it creates a new subdomain my column is now foujuiet.notlong.com.
What seems to set TinyURL apart is that it uses the full alphanumeric character set a-z, 0-9, providing a base 36 numbering system. That's probably why the TinyURL links were so much shorter than most of the others.
Anyway, there are lots of options out there for shortening URLs. It's not just writers who will find this useful, it's anyone who has a blog, participates in chat rooms or online forums, or even sends e-mail with links in it.
Even if your goal isn't to prevent mistakes (as was my original goal here), there's something more graceful and aesthetic about the short URLs.
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