Amazon and Twitter Roll Out URL-Shortening Services

Artwork: Chip Taylor
Amazon and Twitter are the latest companies to offer their own URL shortening services, joining a crowded playing field of entrants. While the move by tech heavyweights Amazon and Twitter into the URL shortening business is a good thing for consumers looking for a reliable service that will be around for a long time, it could be a death knell for smaller URL link players such as Is.gd and TinyURL.

Amazon's shortened URLs will appear as amzn.to/ followed by a combination of six letters and numbers. The third-party service Bitly.pro will power Amazon's service, TechCrunch reports. Twitter confirmed that it will launch its own URL shortener, but didn't say what it will be called or if a third-party would power it. But Twitter Chief Executive Evan Williams said users probably won't be able to choose alternative shortening services.

Size Matters

Twitter's decision could cause all sorts of problems for the URL shortening business as a whole. It will definitly harm smaller services such as is.gd and tinyurl, as their livelihood is already hurt by the prominence of bit.ly. Even bit.ly itself won't be safe if Twitter picks its own service instead.

For Web users, the death of any shortened URL service leaves open the possibility that its links will disappear. So far, we haven't seen any major disasters, but last year, tr.im temporarily discontinued operations, and it no longer accepts new URLs except through application programming interfaces.

Another potential problem, as my colleague J.R. Raphael once pointed out, is that shortened URLs powered by Twitter would likely rely on Twitter's servers for redirection. If you've ever seen the Fail Whale, you know reliability can be an issue.

On the other hand, a Twitter-hosted URL shortener would add long-term stability to links. If Twitter is handling the shortened URLs, you know those links in your feed will stick around for as long as Twitter does.

For similar reasons, I don't see much harm in custom shortened URLs. If major players like Amazon, the New York Times (nyti.ms) and the Huffington Post (huff.to) are all paying to use bitly.pro, it's unlikely those links will die, and bit.ly becomes a more viable business in the process.

The question is whether Twitter's URL shortener is on a crash course with Web sites who'd rather use their own custom shortened URLs. They need to reach a compromise, lest URL shortening business get any messier.

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