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Short and Sweet: the Rise of the Link Shortening Service
By: Bruce Coker
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    Table of Contents:
  • Short and Sweet: the Rise of the Link Shortening Service
  • The hazards of growth
  • What's the problem?
  • What's in it for them?

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    Short and Sweet: the Rise of the Link Shortening Service - The hazards of growth

    (Page 2 of 4 )

    This rapid growth has presented opportunity and hazard in equal measure to the owners of such services. Any web site that receives over 1.5 billion hits - perhaps clickthroughs is a more appropriate term - per month obviously has massive commercial potential. The difficulty is in figuring out how to leverage this to make money.

    One of the fundamental requirements of a service such as link shortening and redirection is that it should be essentially invisible at the user level, which places severe limits on the extent to which these sites can exploit the usual revenue streams. The tinyurl home page does show Google ads, but even this is unusual within the genre. The other main players - urlit, qurl and - are all ad-free: in fact, if they are distinctive for anything it is their clean, minimalist interfaces. Add to this the fact that all these services are provided free to end users, and the claims of ZDNet's David Berlind that tinyurl could be the next YouTube start to seem far-fetched.

    Tinyurl founder Kevin "Gilby" Gilbertson has acknowledged as much, having expressed on-the-record concerns over the risk of link shortening services becoming contaminated by advertising. This is a genuine possibility, although perhaps not so much of a danger as Gilby fears, since users of any service that starts to bombard them with advertising are likely to switch providers in a hurry.

    This isn't difficult, either, as the low barriers to entry mean that new shortening services are appearing all the time. The technology involved is minimal: a low-end server running PHP and MySQL and armed with a freely downloadable script is powerful enough to provide a basic service. A competent developer could write their own code in two dozen lines. But that's only the start. The real challenge, as Gilby and others such as David at Hmm have discovered, is maintaining the quality of service.

    David started his shortening service,, in 2004, primarily for his own use, but he saw no problem with opening up the service to public use. On the back of virtually no publicity, take-up was surprisingly rapid, and he soon came face to face with the problems of running such a service - an experience he now describes as "miserable." Eventually the difficulties became so great that David was forced to suspend public access to the service, although the site says that it intends to keep existing links working indefinitely once these are not used for spam.

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