Now Even The New York Times Is Entering The URL Shortening Arena … Kinda

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Earlier today I covered two new URL shortening services, UnHub and LNK.by, the latest additions to the plethora of basic web applications that many people are growing accustomed to for sharing links on micro-sharing services and social networking sites.

And just when I thought I’d had it with that type of service for a while, we caught wind of one that made me raise my eyebrows. Enter NytUrl, the ‘trusted’ URL shortener for NYtimes.com articles. Update: The site and all the redirects were taken down “due to abuse.”

According to the website, the service shortens URLs for NYTimes.com articles, although a quick test shows that it’s definitely not restricted to other websites (see http://nyturl.com/34 and http://nyturl.com/35), even if it occasionally says the URL is not valid for any other site. This of course defeats the entire purpose of the service, which is to reassure people clicking the links that they’ll wind up on the NYTimes.com website. My guess is that the ability to add links to other websites will be disabled soon enough.

NytUrl also comes with a handy bookmarklet and a basic API, but the website claims this is just the beginning and that there are lots of new features coming soon.

Here’s the strange part: this service is not operated or even endorsed by the New York Times. In fact, the official Twitter account @NYTimes uses bit.ly for links to articles, even if some NYT related accounts are apparently already using NytUrl.com, as evidenced by this Twitter search query (and these example tweets).

So what gives? A WHOIS search for the owner of the nyturl.com domain name doesn’t reveal a thing since his or her identity has been protected upon registration, but according to our source this is effectively the work of two NYTimes employees, namely one of the group’s Senior Software Architects, Jacob Harris and in-house developer Michael Donohoe.

Which checks out, because Harris is a self-proclaimed Twitter fan and NYTimes aficionado, and according to the bio posted on the SXSW website (where he was a panelist for one of the sessions) he’s also the one who set up the Twitter feeds for a variety of NYTimes related accounts. Donohoe even lists the NytUrl service on his website, so no doubt he’s involved.

Update: Donohoe got back to a request for more information but declines to share more details.

And in case you’re wondering why Harris isn’t using nyt.com (which is owned by the NY Times and forwarded to the main website) for the service, which would knock another 3 characters off the shortened URLs: our source says this was likely a grassroots initiative which hasn’t been approved by any of the decision makers at the NY Times, and that it’s not clear if it’s even going to be in the future.

It does raise interesting questions: is it a good idea for media companies to obtain control over the short URLs they broadcast across the net and link back to their content? Will netizens lend more credibility to media-owned URL shorteners? Or should they just be using what is out there instead of adding yet another one to the fray?

(Note that we use tcrn.ch ourselves for our Twitter account, and that you can see the shortened URL for any of our posts right next to the comment box, in this case http://tcrn.ch/Lk)

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