New Ideas to Improve URL Shortening

Ideas to Improve URL Shortening Services

The use of URL shortening services has exploded since the introduction of micro-blogging sites like Twitter and Jaiku. The most popular ones include, and The tight restrictions on the maximum length of a Twitter post has created a surge in demand for these simple services.

The only problem is, they’re nowhere near to reaching their potential.

These services could be so much more useful and interesting. And there are loads of simple ways to improve them. They should be leveraging the unique data they receive and help make the service more interesting to everyone. Additionally, as Aidan Finn rightly points out, they’re not always appropriate either as they remove contextual meaning from the text used in the link. This text is a key navigational tool often used by readers to help them decide if something is worth visiting.

This got me thinking about ways to improve this relatively simple service, so I’ve come up with four straight forward ideas to help add value and make them more useful.

1. Add Statistics

Neither Twitter or Jaiku or any other micro-blogging tool provides any form of analytical statistics for their users. Other than our list of followers, we have no way to see who’s viewing (or cyber stalking) our profiles. By adding simple statistics to one of the popular URL shortening services we could see a) who clicked them, b) how often, c) and from where.

The statistics of the URL’s activity could be made public, or alternatively, simple user accounts could be added to the system to allow users to see and manage all their URL links created from within the service over time.

2. Allow Custom Links

Links generated by the current URL shortening services don’t give any context. The text used in the links give no hint as to the content of the source of the link. It would be nice to have an option to choose the text used in the shortened link rather than have the system generate one for you. Obviously the number of available and meaningful URL’s is limited, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be three characters in length (such as I’d be quote happy with an eight or nine character URL if it gave me some idea about it’s content.

For example, the shortened URL for this post could be rather then the context free

It’s a small improvement, but something that would make these services a lot more useful.

3. Secure RSS Notifications

Simple statistics could be provided via RSS to centralise and aggregate the activity on the URL. It would be a great way to deliver analytical data. Each URL could have it’s own feed (example: or user’s could have an aggregated feed of all their URL’s (example: These could be rendered private or public, allowing the owner to control who has access to view it’s popularity.

4. Go Social

Perhaps there’s also a social networking angle to this. These URL services could build communities around the people who link to the same resources. It would be a great way to connect readers with similar interests, who otherwise may never find out about each other.

It would also be another way to add authority to links into blogs and other news content, albeit just a small portion of the actual number of links likely to be linking to a particular resource. Normally, authority in blog search engines like Technorati and the new Twingly service rely on pinging services to gather data on the number of links back to a resource, but these only work for blogs and news sites. Whereas the URL shortening services, by their very nature, knows who’s linking to what without the need for complex systems.

Tell Me What You Think

I think these are all simple, interesting concepts that would improve the current URL shortening services, and I’d be keen to hear what anyone else thinks of them. Maybe these are totally useless ideas, but I thought I’d throw them out there. If any of the URL shortening services want to adopt any of these ideas, I’d be delighted if they did. It would make them far more useful, and leverage the data that’s passed through them. If not, I’d be tempted to put together something myself. Shout if you want it.


5 Comments added. Add comment?

  1. Cristine says: have those features that you suggested. Still hoping to improve to it’s perfect… You got a great idea anyway.

    Aug 15, 2008
  2. Iarfhlaith says:

    Thanks Cristine,

    Soon after writing this post I made a few connections with some other developers and we started working on a url shortening service.

    It’s very early days, but there’s a basic service up and running over at

    Lots more in the pipeline. Thanks for your feedback!

    Aug 18, 2008

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