So, you have a URL for an article you've written or found which you want to share. But it's 150 characters or 200 long. It's not a huge problem if it gets through email ok. But what if you want to tell someone on the phone, or include it as a part of a 140 character twitter post?
First, let's address the shortness factor. When you're trying to send a tweet on twitter and you are coming up over limit, it's nice to have a url shortener that's only 13 or 14 characters compared to tinyurl's 19.
www.is.gd, www.sl.im and www.kl.am are the shortest, with www.bit.ly and www.cli.gs coming in close.
Why do you want to squeeze a couple extra characters out of those 140 allotted for your tweet? One reason that I find most twitter users don't know much about is hash tags-- the text tags preceded by the # sign. People use them to associate tweets with certain ideas, issues, events, entities, etc. So there are ones for michael jackson-- #mj, the response to the Iranian elections #iranelection, the Personal Democracy forum 2009 conference I attended last week #pdf09 and many more. I started one for bottom up #bottom-up and we'll see if it gets some traction.
Anyway, if you have more characters left over, you can add more hash tags and, since people do searches for hash tags, they're use can get you a lot more eyeballs on your tweets than just those of your followers.
A major advantage that some, like sl.im and bit.ly offer is they track clicks on the urls you create. You can log in at the site and they record the shortened urls you create so you can see how many people clicked on them. I have been using www.tr.im and it goes further, telling you where the clicks came from, country-wise, the referral agents, how many were actually human vs. bot clicks and what day the clicks were made. That's a lot of information compared to just creating the shortened link. It's nice to know which links you put out there actually get clicked. That's feedback-- and having spent much of my life in the field of "biofeedback" I'm one believer that feedback helps you to function better, with more control of the choices in your life.
Custom Shortened URLs
One important feature for me is the ability to create a custom shortened URL. If the characters on the other side of the forward slash are memorable, they'll be easier to get viral. If the characters are random letters, they're harder. So, a number of URL shortening sites let you provide the characters for the shortened URL. I'll often add a number just to be sure my pick "takes" since sometimes the site automatically creates one if the custom characters you've specified have already been taken.
For example. I created the following shortened URL for this article:
http://tr.im/urlshorteners instead of a much longer one you can see in your browser. (Since that time, tr.im has shut down. I am now using bit.ly)
In this world that is transitioning from top down to bottom up, URL shorteners are playing an interesting role. They make it easier to share information-- whether it's a link to an article, to a political action page, a coupon for a discount, or a family member's picters on flickr. There are thousands of these little tech devices that are making it simpler, faster and more likely that you WILL do something, that YOU will initiate some action, some sharing... and sharing is one key element of the transition to the bottom up world our world is becoming.
Redirects-- Getting Credit Where Credit's Due
Another reason to consider which URL shortener you use, especially if you are providing links to your own site is that some URL shorteners create a "re-direct" that does not insure that your site gets credit for the link. That's important in terms of how google and other search engines measure links to your site. Of course, the more real links, the better in terms of search engine optimization. Some sites use what are called 302 re-directs, which are treated differently than 301 re-directs, which google treats as transparent, with the credit for the link going to the link that was shortened.
There's more on the benefits of URL shorteners and which sites do what. I used an article at click here
A warning on clicking shortened URLs.
Some spammers and purveyors of viruses are using shortened urls because they are not as easily screened by spam and virus filters. Be sure to only click on shortened URLs from people you trust.
Here's a more detailed article on this from DigitalJournal.com http://tinyurl.com/lngcav
It wouldn't be that hard for url shortener sites to filter urls first, through a blacklist of known spammer urls. That could help. And they could determine the IP addresses of the submitters and reject submissions from IP addresses where spam has been known to originate.