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Link-Shortener Sees Its Life Cut Short

A somewhat popular Web-address-shortening service is closing. announced on its home page yesterday that it would shut down by the end of the year, explaining that its business model had evaporated:

There is no way for us to monetize URL shortening -- users won't pay for it -- and we just can't justify further development since Twitter has all but annointed the market winner. There is simply no point for us to continue operating, and pay for its upkeep.

A blog post offered a little more context, noting that its owners (Vancouver-based social-networking-software developers Nambu Network) didn't see how anybody could build a sustainable business out of of link-shortening.

What's the big deal? For the uninitiated, link shorteners, sometimes called "URL shorteners" (see this post for why I don't like the abbreviation "URL"), can condense a long, unwieldy address to one short enough to fit in such tight spaces as a Twitter status update or a printed newspaper article.

As one example, you can convert "" into "".

For years, the most popular such service was More recently, New York-based has taken a chunk of its market share with a huge help from Twitter, which made its default link shortener several months ago.

(In case you were curious, the ".ly" in is the top-level-domain name for Libya, an unsavory association I wasn't exactly thrilled to discover.'s ".im" belongs to the Isle of Man, which I didn't even know had earned a top-level domain.) trailed far behind those two services--on Twitter, it doesn't show up in a top-five graph--so its passing may not be cause for tremendous angst.

It is, however, a good reason to reflect on the transient nature of link shorteners, as well as any proprietary replacement for a standard Web address. I use these services as shortcuts--I generally use, largely because of its hyper-useful bookmarklet that generates a shortcut to a page without taking me away from that page while also showing how many people have already followed a link to that address--but I don't do so with an expectation that these links will work in the long run. It's enough for them to function over the few days that the Twitter or Facebook update featuring one of these condensed links will be fresh in people's minds.

There are proposals afoot to archive shortened links in some independent clearinghouse, but anything that requires competing vendors to play nice with each other may be a while in coming.

Do you use any of these link shorteners? If so, which one? And how much of a risk do you feel you're taking in using a proprietary service to send people to a Web site?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 10, 2009; 12:15 PM ET
Categories:  The Web  
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I just use html markup, like this, on sites that allow it.

Posted by: wiredog | August 10, 2009 12:35 PM | Report abuse

I think that wiredog has the answer for longevity of the links, though I don't think it gets around character length limitations where those exist because the full URL remains embedded in the html.

Posted by: Arlington4 | August 10, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

I use tinyurl because you can customize the link. I don't use twitter much, if I did perhaps the shorter link that makes would be more useful but I would probably only use it if I had to.

Posted by: mb129 | August 10, 2009 1:21 PM | Report abuse

I've only used TinyURL. I always put the complete URL in the email as well, for those who don't want to trust that I am linking to the site I claim to be linking to. Those people are on their own if the complete link wraps funkilly.

Posted by: Ghak | August 10, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

TinyURL also allows you to set a cookie that will always show you the full URL before redirecting you there. That alone makes them the only URL shortener I'll use.

Posted by: MaxH | August 10, 2009 2:32 PM | Report abuse

I used TinyURL and SnipURL. However, lately I have been more suspect about shortened links form any service unless I know who sent them because of increased use of short URLs to transmit spam, viruses, etc.

Posted by: pattiea1 | August 10, 2009 7:04 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure how you can lose too much money shortening links. All you need is a small database and an asp/php/jsp page registering hits and pumping out META REFRESH tags.

And if you do it long enough, you get a little name recognition. Save some of the more memorable URLs, like...

... and it seems like you've got a chance to make some cash.

And if you push an advert over the page with dhtml as the page loads, well, is that all bad?

You've almost convinced me to start a link shortening site.

Posted by: WorstSeat | August 11, 2009 7:29 PM | Report abuse

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