This post replaces one I wrote back in 2009 called “TinyURL: What Is It and How Do You Make One?” I had pretty much forgotten about the post but recently discovered through my web stats that a lot of people had started reading it again. So I checked it out again myself and thought, “Yikes… THAT needs to be updated!”
Bitly and TinyURL are both services referred to as “link shorteners,” which means they take long URLs and shrink them into much smaller ones. Then, when you enter them into your web browser, they get converted back to their full length. For example, both bit.ly/1c92v5e and tinyurl.com/ngnr2v will take you to the Tech for Luddites home page.
I don’t know when the first link shortener was created but it really came into its own when Twitter began to take off, thanks to its 140-character limit.
NOTE: I also don’t know if TinyURL was the first link shortener ever, but it was the first one I ever saw used regularly. And while I normally like to reward a company who comes up with such a brilliant idea by sticking with them even when the inevitable competitors come along (the reason I stayed with Netflix’s mail-at-home DVD service even when Walmart and Blockbuster came out with less expensive options), the inherent value of a link shortener is its shortness. So since the tinyurl.com domain uses 11 characters and bit.ly uses only 6, I made the switch.
First a little terminology lesson. “Bitly” is the name of the company. They call their shortened links “bitlinks” and the first part of the shortened link is “bit.ly”.
Creating a bitlink is very simple. Just go to bitly.com and enter the full URL in the box at the top right of the screen.
Click “Shorten” and you’ll be taken to a page with your new shorter URL.
That’s it! Now just click the Copy button and then go to wherever you want to use it and paste it in.
About Twitter and Bitlinks
Although one of the original big uses of bitlinks was to reduce the number of characters in a tweet, a change Twitter made some time ago actually eliminates that benefit. That’s because even though you might still see the bitlink in the tweet, behind the scenes Twitter converts all links using its own shortening service (t.co) and will count all links as 22 characters (23 if they use “https”).
A Few More Notes about Bitlinks
- In most places that auto-convert URLs to live links (e.g. Facebook), you don’t need to add the “http://” before “bit.ly” when using a bitlink as they will recognize that as a URL.
- Once a bitlink has been created for a URL, if another person shortens the same one later, they will get the same bitlink for it. One thing I’m not 100% clear on is what’s considered the same URL. For example, a URL that begins with “http://” is definitely considered different than “https://” and you will get a different bitlink for it. But one that begins with “http://www.” and one that begins with just “www.” are considered the same and you will get the same bitlink. And one without the “http” or the “www” at all (e.g. “techforluddites.com”) is considered different again.
- If you sign up for an account with bitly, you can track the bitlinks you create to see how often they’re shared and clicked on as well as some demographic information about the people doing the sharing and clicking. You can also create bitlinks with custom URLs that are easier to remember than the random letters and numbers created by Bitly, as long as someone else hasn’t already used it. For example, bit.ly/streamingplayers will take you to the T4L special section on Streaming Media Players.
- Twitter isn’t the only place you can take advantage of bitlinks. They’re also useful when you have really long URLs that you’re pasting in an email so they don’t break over multiple lines and therefore become unclickable by the recipient. They’re also helpful to use in images or print documents where you can’t create a direct link to the web page and you don’t have space to write out the whole URL.
- If you see a bitlink and aren’t sure if it’s safe to click on, you can preview the destination page by adding a plus sign to the end of the shortened URL. For example, if you enter bit.ly/1c92v5e+, it will tell you that it redirects to Tech for Luddites before you actually go there.
Do you use bitlinks or other URL shorteners a lot? If you have any tips you want to share, add them in the comments below!
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