URL shortener Tr.im's demise: Social web is house of cards

Tr.im, a service that offered users a way to shorten Web links so that they fit into short Twitter messages, has shut down, and its tens of thousands or more links could potentially stop working.

(Though in a message on its web site, the service is now guaranteeing the links will work at least until the end of this year.)

It’s just the latest worrying sign of vulnerability among many of the new services being built to support popular new sites like Twitter. Other Web sites that depend on them can suffer too: If the Tr.im links stop working, the sites being linked to may see their traffic fall away.

Last month, another URL-shortening service, Cligs, was hacked and its links were all redirected to a blog owned by the Orange Country Register’s Kevin Saban, which reportedly affected “millions of users.” And Twitter itself suffered from a hacker, when the email accounts of employees were overtaken, and many of its corporate documents and plans were revealed.

trim2Tr.im itself was an also-ran URL shortening service. Sites such as Bit.ly, which has been anointed as Twitter’s default URL shortener, and TinyURL, have many more users. But Tr.im’s demise has caused a brouhaha in tech circles, in part because the service’s British Columbia-based parent company, Nambu Network, bitterly pointed to Twitter’s practice of favoring Bit.ly. That action by Twitter, which is now sending huge traffic to Bit.ly, means the other smaller URL shortenening services are disadvantaged. The more links these services can offer, the better, because the data they can collect is considered rich: Information about what links people are using, and when, is valuable for advertisers and publishers.

The frustration with linking practices has grown lately, after a recent decision by another popular site, Digg, to redirect its shortURLs to its own site (meaning that if someone uses a URL shortener to link to your story on Digg, it sends traffic to a Digg landing page, not to your site). Some fear that other URL services will take similar action. And now top bloggers are complaining that Twitter is keeping them from seeing their old tweets (Twitter only lets you see your most recent few thousand tweets; if you Tweet a lot, there’s a chance you won’t be able to see your older ones ever again), and that the Twitter follower numbers are distorted and inaccurate.

In other words, the rules of the social web are still being made up on the fly, and if you run a Web business, or are dependent on the Web for traffic, you should be aware of the risk in relying on things like URL shorteners. One trick: Build your own URL shortening service.

For now though, Darwinism will rule. Bit.ly has apparently reached out and offered to host Tr.im’s URL mappings starting tomorrow, though with Tr.im’s bitterness about Twitter’s treatment, it’s unclear whether Tr.im will accept.

[Image credit: Alex Clark]


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