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Horizons

Storm ahead? Death of tr.im raises cloud concerns

By Andrew Heining / August 10, 2009

Shortening? Another kind is grabbing headlines as a popular Web service folds.

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Tr.im, a free URL shortening service made popular by users of Twitter, announced in a message to users Sunday that it would be closing up shop effective immediately. Why? No one could figure out how to make any money from shortening URLs.

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Free shortening services – 117 were counted by this flickr user late last year – sprang up as Twitter rose to popularity, as they make it easier to share long links in Twitter's 140-character, um, Twitterverse. But when Twitter made Bit.ly its default URL shortener in May, it pretty much slammed the door on others in the market.

"There is no way for us to monetize URL shortening -- users won't pay for it -- and we just can't justify further development since Twitter has all but anointed bit.ly the market winner," a message on tr.im's site read Monday.

The news of tr.im's demise came as a shock to those (including the Horizons team) who had come to rely on the service's URL shortening and analytics. (Note to any panicked users: Your URL stats are no longer accessible, but existing tr.im URLs will continue to work through the end of the year, and a plan was reportedly in the works to save the site Monday.)

But besides the inconvenience to former users, the service's abrupt fold poses raises questions about the security of URL shorteners and even the reliability of cloud-based services.

Shorten yourself

Channel Web blogger Ed Moltzen says that URL shorteners are an unnecessary middleman – and a dangerous one – and should be eliminated. He cites research from antivirus firm Kaspersky: "if a service like bit.ly becomes too large, and becomes compromised, it could threaten untold numbers of computers around the world. It's hard to argue."

Developer Dave Winer, stung by tr.im's fold because products he'd developed relied on the URL shortening service, also pleaded with Twitter to develop a shortener of its own. "Twitter, when your DDoS problems are cleared up, please take a look at obviating the need for url-shorteners," he writes. "This is a harbinger of much more serious problems down the road, should bit.ly prove not to be a profitable business, as tr.im has proven."

Bad Twitter

Prominent blogger, industry analyst, and Twitter user Robert Scoble went off on Twitter as a platform, saying he couldn't trust the site. Among other complaints:

I can’t get to my old Tweets. Seriously. They are, I’m sure, on a server somewhere in San Francisco, but I can’t get to them. Twitter search only shows the last few weeks and I’ve asked developers if they can get them but they can only get to the last few thousand Tweets."

Scoble took the fall of tr.im as a warning call to those who rely on cloud-based services to host data – whether that's documents or digital pictures. "Whenever you put your data in other people’s, or other company’s, hands you are taking a pretty significant risk," he writes.

A commenter on Scoble's lengthy blog post agreed – decrying any service that deprives users of control over their data:

...someone like me will never EVER [rely] on all this 'cloud computing' everyone keeps blathering on about! Why? Because it means that you are handing your files, your pics, your docs etc, over to others who you have actually no control over whatsoever.

While that view also has its shortcomings (a back-up hard drive in your house could just as easily fail or be stolen), it has some merit. Remember the uproar when Twitter went down last week? What if Facebook goes under? Goodbye friends, photos, pokes, and posts. Or, gulp, Google? What assurance (besides their perceived invincibility) do these free services offer users that their data won't be lost in a storm – meteorological or otherwise?

Are paid services like Google's Apps the answer? Redundant back-ups? Sound off in the comments (or on Twitter, if that's still your thing – we're @CSMHorizonsBlog.)

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