Modern Software Experience

2010-05-07

not really short links

linking technique

This brief article discusses a technique I call smart short linking. I’ve already mentioned and shown it in both Tweet Style and Embedding Tweets, but in those articles it is just one detail in a text about a larger topic. I thought it a good idea to highlight the smart short linking technique in a brief article of its own.

I’ll discuss the technique using this article itself as the example.

short URL

The URL of this article is http://www.tamurajones.net/SmartShortLinking.xhtml.

That is fifty characters long, and an ordinary tweet allows for only 140 characters in total. That URL would take too much of limited space, so I used an URL shortener. I used bit.ly to create a customised short link: http://bit.ly/SmartShort. That short link is only 24 characters, less than half the original link. If I had not customised it, it could have been even shorter, to save even more space.

By the way, there is no special reason to use bit.ly. I simply used tinyURL when Twitter used tinyURL and switched to bit.ly some time after Twitter switched to using bit.ly.

I combined some hashtags, the title and the short link into a tweet:

2010-05-07 19:15:35 TamuraJones #twitter #tweet #quote #howto Smart Short Linking http://bit.ly/SmartShort

Now, that tweet quote shows the tweet as I tweeted it. As is usual with tweets, the link at the end has http://bit.ly/SmartShort as both actual link and the link title. You can click and follow it to end up at this article again.

Doing the same thing as twitter does is the straightforward way to include the short link, but not the smart one.

problems

There are problems with short links that make it undesirable to use them.

trust

One issue is that those clicking the link have to trust you to provide reasonable links without unexpected surprises. That is an issue fundamental to all short links. Many link shortening services address this by filtering all submitted links through services like Google Safe Browsing.

exist

A link shortening service might cease to exist. Many short link services have combined  forces in 301Works, an initiative of the Internet Archive. The idea is to not only archive short links, but to make sure that they they keep working, even if the company behind it shuts down. That’s the idea, it has not been realised yet.

down

Even if the link shortener is still in business, the site may be temporarily down, in which case the short link won’t work. Or, the site may be up, but so overloaded, that redirection is awfully slow.

framejacking

Some link services do not just redirect the short link to the original link, but also put frame around that page. Well-known offenders include ow.ly (HootSuite), su.pr (StumbleUpon), digg (digg) and fb.me (FaceBook).

Framejacking annoys people. Experienced twitter users know to avoid these link shorteners, and refuse to either click or retweet those links, and may even unfollow those who persist in using them against their better advice. Still, there may arise an occasion that you want quote a tweet that includes a framejacking link, and you do want to quote it correctly...

blocked

As if all this isn’t bad enough, a perfectly working link shortening service might be blocked by a country, a major social site or even a popular firewall.

solution

This quote shows the solution:

2010-05-07 19:15:35 TamuraJones #twitter #tweet #quote #howto Smart Short Linking http://bit.ly/SmartShort

It looks just the same as the previous tweet quote, but it is not. This tweet quote uses smart short linking. It uses a link you can trust, to a site that exists, that is not down, does not engage in framejacking and is unlikely to be blocked; a direct link to this site and in fact to this very page.
Hover you mouse over the bit.ly link in both tweet quotes to notice the difference. The bit.ly link in the second example will work even if bit.ly is down.

no compromise

A short link is not ideal. A short link is a comprise you make for the limited space in a tweet. There is no need to make that compromise on a web page. On a web page, you can use the original link - and that is smart short linking does.

no expansion

Some twitter client and browser plug-ins expand all short links for you. That’s nice when you are browsing, but when you quote a tweet, you should quote the original tweet, not the expanded one. You should quote the original tweet - and that is what smart linking does.

original with original

Smart short linking is doubly original; smart short linking uses the original tweet with the original link. That’s all there is to it. It is a very simple but useful technique; by avoiding actual short links, it avoids all the aforementioned problems of short links.

how-to

Smart short linking is very simple to do; just follow the short link once to discover what the original link is, then use that original link as the actual link, and the short link as the link title.

links