Despite All The Angst Around Its Demise, Tr.im Will Hardly Be Missed

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For all the angst around the demise of Tr.im, the fact is that there are way too many URL shortening services in the world and inevitably more will fall by the wayside. There simply is no need for more than a dozen services to make long URLs shorter (and that doesn’t even count services such as Su.pr or the Diggbar which incorporate a URL shortener as a feature).

Already, the market is consolidating around bit.ly, largely thanks to it being the official URL shortener adopted by Twitter (which switched from competitor TinyURL back in May). Currently, bit.ly makes up 79.6 percent of the short URLs on Twitter, according to stats kept by Tweetmeme. It is followed by TinyURL (with 13.75 percent), is.gd (2.47 percent), ow.ly (2.26 percent), and FriendFeed’s ff.im (1.92 percent).

On Friday, before it shut down, Tr.im was no. 4 on the list, even with ow.ly. So when I say that Tr.im is not going to be missed I do not mean that it was not loved by some users. It was even moderately popular. But as you can see from the market shares above, it is hard to compete against bit.ly since it is Twitter’s default URL shortener. Twitter should just buy it already and put all the other ones out of their misery. Until it does that, it is in Twitter’s interest to keep a few alternatives in the wings. If it ever chose to switch to another default service, that one would grow to 70 to 80 percent of all short links within a few months as well.

In other words, if bit.ly ever slips on the innovation front, it can easily be replaced. But bit.ly is more than a URL shortening service. All of those links hold valuable data. Collecting that data plays into its grander plans to show users deep analytics and the most popular links being shared at any given time. Tr.im didn’t have any such plans. It was an afterthought of Nambu, whose main focus is to make a killer stream reader. If making URLs short (and mining the resulting data) is not your main business, it is hard to compete against startups who do nothing else.

Many developers and others find Twitter’s favoritism maddening, but that is how standards are created (right or wrong). As for Tr.im users who are afraid they will lose their data or that all of their short links will be broken, bit.ly has offered to create a short-link redirecting archive at 301works. Nambu should take them up on the offer (but it won’t right now because it wants to sell tr.im and that data is valuable).

What happens to those links is really what we should be worried about. Broken links mess up the Web. All URL shortening services should make a directory of all of their short links available where anyone (especially search engines) can look up the underlying long link where each one redirects. Maybe this is 301works or some other non-profit repository, but having all of these non-standard short links proliferate will just create more problems down the road when other URL shorteners inevitably fail. And fail they will, which is another reason for publishers to use their own custom URL shortener (we use Awe.sm) and always control their data.

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