The future Web – Broken

Just as cement is the glue that holds together the bricks of our homes and businesses those URLs we click on everyday at the glue that holds the Web together. Without those interconnecting links the Web literally wouldn’t exist. The problem with those links is that they are often exceptionally ling and in a language of their own – or so it seems sometimes.

Prior to the advent of social media services like Twitter URL shortening services were a rare breed with the big name in the field being the easily recognizable TinyUrl. Since the explosive growth of Social Media and services like Twitter the URL shortening service has exploded as well. For a while there it didn’t matter where you turned, it seemed as if a new URL shortener was being announced. For every Twitter, Facebook or Friendfeed clone that was created there was yet another URL shortener following on its heels.

Then we find out the other day that one of the more popular shorteners, Tr.im was going to be shutting its doors and at some point at the first of January, 2010 links created using the service would no longer work. The company behind Tr.im claim that once Twitter had made Bit.ly the default shortening service for Twitter the game was over for anyone else in the field. Then there was the whole problem of monetizing the project – there was none.

This lead to the main page of Tr.im displaying a “close of business” notice of which this was a part of

There is no way for us to monetize URL shortening — users won’t pay for it — and we just can’t justify further devleopment since Twitter has all but annointed bit.ly the market winner. There is simply no point for us to continue operating tr.im, and pay for its upkeep.

Source: Mashable :: Tr.im URL Shortener Shuts Down; Short Links to Die?

Since that point though Nambu, the parent company of Tr.im, has relented to the public outcry against the closure and re-instated the service:

We have restored tr.im, and re-opened its website. We have been absolutely overwhelmed by the popular response, and the countless public and private appeals I have received to keep tr.im alive.

We have answered those pleas. Nambu will keep tr.im operating going forward, indefinitely, while we continue to consider our options in regards to tr.im’s future.

So a minor disaster has been averted for the meantime but that doesn’t mean that we won’t see this event being repeated and sooner rather than later.

I am sure that some will say so what it’s only Twitter and it’s users that will be affected should these shortening service go belly up. Well they couldn’t be more wrong as the use of URL shorteners have spread far beyond just Twitter. Blogs are using them, Facebooker’s are using them, web forums are using them. In effect these shortened URL are becoming the new cement that is holding the web together and their use is increasing on a daily basis across all areas of the web.

If there is one weakness the Web has it is these URL shorteners because as the team at Tr.im quite rightly pointed out keeping all those servers that are behind these services running is an expensive proposition

tr.im did well for what it was, but, alas, it was not enough. We simply cannot find a way to justify continuing to work on it, or pay its network costs, which are not inconsequential. tr.im pushes (as I write this) a lot of redirects and URL creations per day, and this required significant development investment and server expansion to accommodate.

Now Tr.im is only one of a great number of shortening services out there being used daily and if they are having trouble justifying the cost of maintaining a service that isn’t bringing in an income imagine all the other shortening services as well. It is inevitable that at some point these services are going to disappear and while Bit.ly may be the darling of Twitter at the moment and have some sort of business plan beyond just shortening links the same can’t be said of the rest of the services like them.

So what happens when these shortening services begin to disappear and the links they are responsible for begin to break down, because it will happen. Slowly but surely we are going to see portions of the web turn dark – unreachable – because the links that lead to them no longer exist. It might not be too bad if one or two URL services go under as I am sure we’ll survive but things like this have a snowball effect and it could turn out that the very things we used to make the web more accessible could in the end be the very thing that tears it apart.

Paul Short, my writing partner here at The Inquisitr, suggests that rather than using some third party shortening service bloggers should seriously consider rolling our own. I can see the rational behind that idea but I’m not sure that is the answer either, although one I’ll be looking into, but either way the reliance of URL shorteners is something that could have serious repercussions and it won’t be pretty.