One of my pet project du jour’s at the moment are URL shorteners. As Twitter continues to become more important both as a blogging platform, a real time communication medium, a social network and as a source for real time search SEO, the need for URL shorteners have never been greater. Sure, in the past there was often a problem like long links being split into two lines and rendered unusable by email software. Yet there are two real driving forces for my engagement with URL shorteners:

First is the obvious – because of Twitter’s need for 140 character or less messages.

Second is the less obvious – because we live on a shared web more than ever and that trend will continue. On your site you own your brand. You can structure the content, craft the image and architect the domain. How can you keep your brand identity intact whilst moving off of your site, into the vast shared web? How can you track your brand’s movement around that third party space? You need a system that allows the continuation of brand.

A basic URL shortener isn’t a long job to set up. It simply needs the ability to write 301 htaccess commands. Beyond that there’s a lot you can do with tracking links and I may explain some more of my thoughts on that at another point. For now, all I’ll say is that the guys from Bit.ly were kind enough to present to me what they’ve been up to and I can assure you it was stolen from Area 51/Roswell. Pure alien technology, it’s that out of this world.

I’ve created a number of URL shortening services myself. Here are the URL shortener services I set up:

  • fng.sh – This was my first and it’s for a Feng Shui consultant. Initially I made it on top of awe.sm’s infrastructure although I’ve subsequently changed that
  • fs.hn – This URL shortener was conceived for my fashion related sites although I am allowing other fashion media/retailers/tech/bloggers to use it too.
  • refr.sh – My URL shortener for refreshing content. Think ethical, eco-friendly, health, social change, social enterprises, charitable and other good causes. Again, although started with my own sites in mind, I’m not averse to others using it
  • nxtw.mn – I’ve set this up for TheNextWomen.com since I feel stimulating women to think more about how technology entrepreneurship could be a path they’d like to walk is important both to women, the growth of technology and society as a whole

There is another step in my process here. All technologies in their infancy are slightly limited. However their nature is to grow and develop fast. Scott and the guys at bit.ly have done incredible things, Jonathan at awe.sm is working on their set up and Richard at is.gd is now in the trusty hands of Kate and co at Memset which should ensure he gets to keep working on it. Whilst bit.ly dominate the URL shortening field and I’ve no intentions of competing with them, I’m certain that these technologies will develop and become more important as time goes by. I’m therefore claiming a certain amount of land to satisfy my own interests while the prices are cheap!

Things I think will happen:

  • URL shorteners will tie in with canonical URLs for SEO
  • Real time marketing outreach will be enabled using the personal level tracking through social networks that a URL shortener gives – ie a link shortener can show who is tweeting about your brand and you could connect to them
  • URL shorteners will give an insight into user behaviour that Google Analytics, WebTrends and the like are currently unable to do since URL shorteners can track through the shared web whilst Google Analytics can only record on-site activity

Yeah… the more I think about it, the more I think I might start a few more URL shorteners!

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