What’s A Link Shortener?

Send to Kindle

BitDroid is a free app that lets you create, track and organize bit.ly short links on your Android smart phone or other mobile Android device, like a Kindle Fire.

You may have seen weird-looking links like these and wondered what they were all about, or even if they were some kind of hacker trick or malware (they’re not):

http://bit.ly/16LXZZ6

http://amzn.to/1eK8AvP

http://avc.lu/1dM3pZc

 

Link Shorteners: Taking Long, Ugly, Hard to Remember Web Addresses And Making Them Short And Purty

Yeah, the heading of this section pretty much says it all. Link shortener services like bitly.com, tinyurl.com and others exist to convert long, unwieldy web address links into something short and easy to share.

They were invented initially to serve the needs of people who use Twitter. Because Twitter places a 140 character limit on user posts and a single long web link can use up nearly all of the available characters, there was a real need for some way to make them shorter. Enter the link shortener. It wasn’t long before people who love to text realized they could include shortened links in their 160-character limit text messages, too.

Pretty soon, various websites started realizing this short links thing was catching on, and rather than have their site visitors go elsewhere to get their links shortened, the sites began offering their own link shorteners as a ‘sharing’ option (where you find the links or buttons for ‘share on Facebook’, ’email this article’, etc.). They formatted their special short links with an indication of where the link came from, as a way to spread what marketers call “brand awareness”.

Hence, short links for Slate web pages begin with “http://slate.me/”, links to Amazon product pages begin with “http://amzn.to”, and so on. There are countless examples; anywhere you see a button to “generate shortlink”, there’s a custom-formatted link shortener at work.

 

Shortify is another free Android app for shortening links on mobile devices. This one is based on Google’s goo.gl shortener service, and even includes an option to generate a QR code if you want.

How Link Shorteners Work

Link shortener tools all work essentially the same way. They take your original web address and store it to a table, then a shortlink version is auto-generated by a computer algorithm that spits out the first part of the link (e.g., the ‘bit.ly’, ‘slate.me’, etc. part) and then tacks on a randomly selected string of numeric and alphabetic characters. This newly-generated short link is stored in the table next to the long web address. Whenever anyone clicks on a shortened link, the table is accessed to find the matching long web address and the person who clicked is directed to the correct web page.

 

How You Can Use Link Shorteners, For Free

Just copy a web address (aka the “URL”), then go to one of these free, no registration required sites (there are MANY more, these are just a few that I’ve personally used), paste the link into the provided box and click the button to have a short link generated. Now you can copy the short link and paste it into a Twitter or Facebook update, a text message, or an email. When anyone clicks on the shortened link, they’re taken to the web page with the original web address you pasted in at the link shortener.

http://bitly.com

http://tinyurl.com

http://goo.gl

 

When It Makes Sense To Register For A Link Shortener Service

Most of these services offer a registration option, and most provide a basic account free of charge. Here’s why you might want to consider signing up, rather than just continuing to use the unregistered service.

1. You want to create your own custom-formatted links. Maybe you have a business and want all your short links to raise brand awareness by including an abbreviated version of your company name, like “http://max.tux/[random characters]”. The ability to specify custom formatting is a common upgrade users get by registering.

2. You want to be sure your short links will be saved indefinitely. As you can imagine, those tables where shortlinks are stored alongside their lengthy counterparts fill up pretty quickly, and when it becomes necessary to delete old ones to free up space, links created by unregistered users are the ones that get deleted. If you want to be sure a short link you post today will still work a year or more from now, you should register.

3. You have a need to organize, track, and access links you’ve created in the past. People who frequently use short links in their blogs or on their websites typically want to know who’s clicking on those links, and those kinds of statistics are only available to registered users. Registered users can also look up short links they created previously, and on some sites, even group their short links into categories to make them easier to find in the future.

 

Can’t A Shortlink Be Used To Spread Viruses Or Other Malware?

While it’s true that some shady characters might want to use a link shortener  to camouflage a malware link, since anyone who mouses over a shortlink will only see the same shortlink displayed at the bottom of their browser window instead of the full web address, the great majority of short links are entirely legitimate and harmless.

As with anything online, let common sense be your guide. Treat shortlinks the same way you’d treat any other link, and they will pose no more threat to you than any other type of link. For example, if you wouldn’t click on a regular link in a suspicious email, don’t click on a shortlink in a suspicious email.

 

 

When It Makes Sense To Pay For A Link Shortener Premium Account

As I said above, most link shortener services offer free registered accounts, but premium features like statistics tracking and the ability to group short links into categories may require a fee-based, “premium” account. It comes down to this: if there’s a feature you need, and you can’t get that feature for free from any link shortener site, it’s worth paying for the premium account. The cost is usually nominal, like a buck or two a month.

 

So don’t fear short links, and feel free to try making a few, yourself!

 

Print Friendly