URL shorteners abound: fb.me, goo.gl join the likes of bit.ly, tr.im, ow.ly

Two big tech names add their own URL shorteners as the leader rolls out more features. What's the rush – and the point?

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Does it seem to anyone else that URL shortening could be compared to the maritime industry?

First came the SS Tinyurl. The Web address shortening service was christened in 2002, bravely plying the Web's waters to make sharing lengthy URLs easier. Twitter's rise was like the discovery of a new seafood delicacy, and literally hundreds of similar ships have launched to support the fledgling industry. They've weathered security storms, link-rot, and the ever-shifting sea of Web popularity. Eventually some ships sank – or nearly did, like tr.im – and others went in for upgrades. Now, with Twitter's endorsement, bit.ly looks like Oculus or Infinitas.

On Tuesday three significant changes were made to the URL-shortening, er, seascape.

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First, it was discovered that Facebook has begun using its own custom URL shortener. Share a Facebook link with a mobile device, and the resulting url is expressed in terms of "fb.me".

Then, Google announced that its Toolbar and Feedburner will begin using an integrated URL shortener – goo.gl – to make sharing links faster and more reliable.

Finally, in a move on which the previous two could've been based (but weren't), current URL shortening industry leader bit.ly on Tuesday announced that it had begun offering large content publishers the ability to create their own branded, in-house shorteners. The service, called Bit.ly Pro, used the New York Times' "nyti.ms" as an example of how the custom shorteners help reassure people that the links they're clicking on are safe to trust. Coupled with that announcement was the unveiling of a realtime stat-tracking tool that gives publishers an even more granular look at how their content is being shared.

What's it all mean?

URL shortening is getting its sea legs and it's getting more reliable. When word broke that tr.im might fold as a result of Twitter endorsing bit.ly, many (including this blogger) took the opportunity to decry the fleeting nature of these free cloud-based Web services. What would happen to users' data if a service decided they just couldn't stay afloat anymore? With Google and Facebook aboard, URL shortening gets as solid an endorsement as the Web can muster these days (though neither is without stain, these days – Facebook fallen prey to privacy, Google to outages).

Custom URL shorteners like Bit.ly Pro answer the other major question – trustworthiness. Programs like Tweetdeck provide a preview feature so users can check the page they're about to visit before actually going there, but branded shorteners have the potential to do away with link wariness altogether. Assuming publishers can keep their in-house shorteners secure, users can rest assured that links from, oh, "csmonit.or," are safe (and worth the time) to click.

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What's your take on URL shorteners? Do they have a place outside of Twitter? Leave a comment and be sure to follow us on Twitter – we're @CSMHorizonsBlog.

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