Tr.im, a popular URL shortening service, announced over the weekend that it is discontinuing its operations. The shutdown could mean that shortened links contained in hundreds of thousands of Twitter posts, e-mail messages, and text messages could be rendered useless by early next year.
Explaining the shutdown, Tr.im's owner -- parent company Nambu -- said it is no longer feasible to continue the service, which takes impossibly long URLs and shortens them down to fewer than 15 characters. Nambu said it could no longer afford to keep footing the bill for the network costs associated with tr.im, especially since the company said it could not figure out how to make money off the project.
No one has been willing to pick up the tab for tr.im, either. In a blog post, a Nambu representative said the company had reached out to people in the "Twitter development world" to see if anyone was willing to acquire tr.im for a "token amount of money," but so far there are no takers. Nambu also blamed, at least partially, tr.im's demise on Twitter's decision to use bit.ly as its default URL shortener.
Tr.im will continue to support URL redirection until at least December 31, 2009, but there's a big question mark over what will happen after that date. The worst case scenario would be widespread link rot where all tr.im links cease to work. Tr.im claims it created tens of thousands shorter Web addresses every day for Twitter users and others.
But it's hard to know, in practical terms, how tr.im's demise will impact people who used the service. Despite the fact that tr.im was a popular shortener for Twitter users, Twitter is more useful as a resource for links about what is happening now, not four months ago. So it's possible, but not certain, that tweets with tr.im links from August 2009 may not be that important to Twitter users in January 2010.
There's also a possibility that tr.im URLs could be saved by a project under development by a company behind tr.im competitor bit.ly, according to Mashable. Betaworks has been working on a project called 301works -- 301 is one of several HTML codes that tells your computer a link has been redirected to another site. 301works would continue to support URL redirection for shortening services like tr.im that cease operation. Betaworks doesn't seem to be offering any money to tr.im, so it's not clear at this point if Nambu would be willing to hand over its data to 301works.
If money is what it takes to get tr.im's data, then as Mashable points out, it may be in the interest of bit.ly or its investors to offer a small sum for tr.im just to offset any public mistrust of similar services.
URL shortening has become important and increasingly useful since the rise of Twitter, where messages are limited to 140 characters or less. But URL shortening services can also be problematic. One particularly bothersome trend is the use of shortened URLs as a tool for links to spam and malware. Since it's hard to know where a shortened URL will take you once you click on it, the smaller links are an ideal tool for rogue operators. In June, the URL shortening service Cligs was hacked, and its entire collection of shortened links were redirected to a blog on the Orange County Register's Website. It's still not clear if the Cligs redirection was a prank or if hackers screwed up and meant to redirect Cligs' links to a malicious site. TinyURL also had problems this year when it suffered a brief service outage in March, causing a temporary case of link rot across the Web.
Admittedly, URL shortening services are great tools to use on Twitter, social networks, e-mail, and SMS messages, since they make unruly Web addresses more manageable. But if tr.im competitors like TinyURL, bit.ly, and ow.ly start going under without a mechanism in place to maintain all those shortened links, the Web could become a very frustrating place in the near future.