Fr├⌐d├⌐ric de Villamil wrote a bit saying that link-shortening services are breaking the web and harming user experience.
I disagree. I think link shorteners improve user experience and they’re not ‘breaking the web’ whatever that means.
Say I’m watching a video on pluralsight or another source without youtube-like annotations and the video-creator needs to embed a link on the video. Its going to be a lot easier to type in a shortened url than a full-length one, especially when you get into weird symbols and possibly query strings.
If I’m on a mobile/touchscreen device, and the link isn’t tappable, then it had darn well better be shortened, because highlighting text on a touchscreen is the worst thing ever. Highlighting things on a touch screen is painfully tedious so I had damn well better have to highlight as little as possible.
Just try to move these damn nubbys.
This image is taken from the ‘copy and paste’ manual page for Windows Phone. The fact that the instructions are so long indicate that this is a major pain point for touch-screen usability. No wonder Apple didn’t include it in the first iPhone.
If I’m chatting or on a social site, a shortened link may improve the readability of someone’s comment. Some folks may want to use a shortener instead of hotlinking or making wikipedia-like annotations of their post. It might not be the best way, but its a lot better than some long-ass link in the middle of a paragraph.
Benefits for content-creators
Link-shorteners also offer analytics for content-creators. If I’m building a brand for a company, knowing what social sites are getting more clicks can help with things like determining where to direct markening money or determining popularity among demographics. You can call it spam if you want but marketing is a legitimate thing and is totally fair game.
Use it, don’t abuse it
It is true, though, there are issues of fragility and trusting a 3rd party with links. bit.ly won’t be around forever. But I don’t think that really matters. The place you posted the shortened link won’t be around forever either. The actual page is still there (assuming you’re hosting it yourself and not on tumblr or blogger or whatever. In that case, you never stood a chance). Any user that really wants to get back to your content will bookmark it.
In the case of a long chain of URL redirects because you used an iPhone app to post a 5-step short link redirect chain, then I have to say, too damn bad. There is a cost associated with using an app to post a link to a shortener to a social media site which has its own shortener. That content-sharing app is provied for free for a reason, and its not to improve your user’s performance. Twitter’s link shortener at least has the practical problem of fitting links into the 140-character limit. I’ts unreasonable to post a link-to-a-link-to-a-link and say “link shorteners are bad” when really you’re just abusing them.
While there are some considerations to be made, there are plenty of good reasons for link-shorteners.