#Bitly: What Is It and How Do You Use It Now?
What Is It and How Do You Use It Now?
Bitly is simply referred to as “link shorteners.This is the simplest way to describe URL shortening might be to describe how some of the existing URL shortening sites work.
One of these sites is known as Bitly, at https://bitly.com/. If you go to that website, there is an edit box near the top of the page where you can paste in a longer URL for a web page, such as http://stackoverflow.com/help/on-topic, and then click on the Shorten button. Bitly assigns a unique key, in this case UOLsVl, for the URL that you supplied, saves it in their database, and returns the shorter URL http://bit.ly/UOLsVl that you can then use to access the same web page.
An early reference is US Patent 6957224, which describes
...a system, method and computer program product for providing links to remotely located information in a network of remotely connected computers. A uniform resource locator (URL) is registered with a server. A shorthand link is associated with the registered URL. The associated shorthand link and URL are logged in a registry database. When a request is received for a shorthand link, the registry database is searched for an associated URL. If the shorthand link is found to be associated with a URL, the URL is fetched, otherwise an error message is returned.The patent was filed in September 2000; while the patent was issued in 2005, US patent applications are made public within 18 months of filing.
Another reference to URL shortening was in 2001. The first notable URL shortening service, TinyURL, was launched in 2002. Its popularity influenced the creation of at least 100 similar websites, although most are simply domain alternatives. Initially Twitter automatically translated URLs longer than twenty-six characters using TinyURL, although it began using bit.ly instead in 2009 and later developed its own URL shortening service, t.co.
On 14 August 2009 WordPress announced the wp.me URL shortener for use when referring to any WordPress.com blog post. In November 2009, shortened links on bit.ly were accessed 2.1 billion times. Around that time, bit.ly and TinyURL were the most widely used URL-shortening services.
One service, tr.im, stopped generating short URLs in 2009, blaming a lack of revenue-generating mechanisms to cover costs and Twitter's default use of the bit.ly shortener, and questioning whether other shortening services could be profitable from URL shortening in the longer term. It resumed for a time, then closed.
The shortest possible long-term URLs were generated by NanoURL from December 2009 until about 2011, associated with the top-level .to (Tonga) domain, in the form http://to./xxxx, where xxxx represents a sequence of random numbers and letters.
On 14 December 2009 Google announced a service called Google URL Shortener at goo.gl, which originally was only available for use through Google products (such as Google Toolbar and FeedBurner) and extensions for Google Chrome. On 21 December 2009, Google introduced a YouTube URL Shortener, youtu.be. From September 2010 Google URL Shortener became available via a direct interface. The goo.gl service provides analytics details and a QR code generator.
Bitly and TinyURLBitly and TinyURL are both services referred to as “link shorteners,” which means they take long URLs and shrink them into much smaller ones. Then, when you enter them into your web browser, they get converted back to their full length. For example,
Twitter began to take off, thanks to its 140-character limit. The inherent value of a link shortener is its shortness. So the little difference between them was just domain uses 11 characters and uses only 6, that's alone can make someone to make the switch.
This also leaves more room to add your own text. If you're sharing an article and there is no text after the link, the URL may be hidden from the share. Learn more about issues sharing links.
How Long Does the Shortened URL Last?If you are including shortened URLs in a blog or online article, obviously you would like some reassurances that the link will continue to be valid for a long time. Services such as Bitly declare that their links are permanent; they will never be modified or deleted. Whatever URL shortening service you use, you should probably read through their help to determine whether they also make their links permanent. And be careful! Bitly declares that even if you have created a custom name in your shortened URL, they will not allow you to edit the web page that it points to you. So if you accidentally enter the wrong longer URL to the service, the new shorter URL can never be edited to associate it with a different longer URL.
Why Ever Use a Longer URL?Since longer URLs can be so cumbersome to copy and paste without looking strange with line breaks, why should we ever use longer URLs? One answer is security. When you publish a longer URL, people can see what main website they are being directed to and feel comfortable with following the link. With most shortened URLs, you have no idea what website the link is really associated with. Some services such as Bitly and Goo.gl offer a simple feature of just adding a “+” character on the end of the shortened URL to get a preview of the destination of the shortened URL. One of the risks of choosing a URL shortening service is to have some assurance that they are filtering out spam and virus links. Services that don’t do this can end up being blacklisted on major websites which won’t allow links from such services to be displayed.
Custom Short LinksTo help combat concerns about following shortened URLs, many major websites have started registering their own custom short links. So instead of seeing “bit.ly” or “goo.gl” links that might lead you anywhere, these websites have set up their own custom short domain name. This way they can use shortened URLs but still give people confidence about where the link will lead. For example, New York Times uses the shortened address “nyti.ms”.
You don’t have to be a major corporation to set up a custom short name domain to create custom short links. But the details of how to do this are well out of the scope of this article. But if you do a search on terms such as “creating custom short urls”, you can find many articles that go into details of how to do this.
I hope this article has helped you understand a little more about how URL shortening works. And for those who really like to dig deep into a topic, hopefully I’ve supplied you with a few new search terms to aid you in your research.
About Twitter and Bitlinks
Although one of the original big uses of bitlinks was to reduce the number of characters in a tweet, a change Twitter made some time ago actually eliminates that benefit. That’s because even though you might still see the bitlink in the tweet, behind the scenes Twitter converts all links using its own shortening service (t.co) and will count all links as 22 characters (23 if they use “https”).
A Few More Notes about Bitlinks
- In most places that auto-convert URLs to live links (e.g. Facebook), you don’t need to add the “http://” before “ ” when using a bitlink as they will recognize that as a URL.
- Once a bitlink has been created for a URL, if another person shortens the same one later, they will get the same bitlink for it. One thing I’m not 100% clear on is what’s considered the same URL. For example, a URL that begins with “http://” is definitely considered different than “https://” and you will get a different bitlink for it. But one that begins with “http://www.” and one that begins with just “www.” are considered the same and you will get the same bitlink. And one without the “http” or the “www” at all (e.g. “ ”) is considered different again.
- If you sign up for an account with bitly, you can track the bitlinks you create to see how often they’re shared and clicked on as well as some demographic information about the people doing the sharing and clicking. You can also create bitlinks with custom URLs that are easier to remember than the random letters and numbers created by Bitly, as long as someone else hasn’t already used it. For example, bit.ly/streamingplayers will take you to the T4L special section on Streaming Media Players.
- Twitter isn’t the only place you can take advantage of bitlinks. They’re also useful when you have really long URLs that you’re pasting in an email so they don’t break over multiple lines and therefore become unclickable by the recipient. They’re also helpful to use in images or print documents where you can’t create a direct link to the web page and you don’t have space to write out the whole URL.
- If you see a bitlink and aren’t sure if it’s safe to click on, you can preview the destination page by adding a plus sign to the end of the shortened URL. For example, if you enter bit.ly/1c92v5e+, it will tell you that it redirects to Tech for Luddites before you actually go there.
SummaryFinally From the launch of the world wide web in 1991, the digital world grew quickly.
People were using the internet more and more, getting comfortable in this virtual space. And as digital users evolved over time, the URL evolved along with it thereby living room for what we are talking about today.
Elizabeth Kricfalusi, Tech for Luddites