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Monday, September 1st, 2014 - 1:30 PM
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Hows & whys of short URLs

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TECH CORNER : ASK BOAZ I noticed that many posts on Twitter use links with domain names such as bit.ly or fb.me or t.co. What are these links and how are they used?
— Gurung, Thimphu

Dear Gurung,
Thanks for your question! These funny links, known as Short URLs, are indeed very popular on Twitter (www.twitter.com), as well as many other websites. They are created mainly for the purpose of shortening a long web address, and making it short. When you click on a Short URL, the browser automatically redirects you to the original (longer) web address. How is that helpful? Well, an important advantage of Short URLs is that they are (surprise!) short. This is very beneficial in Twitter. Similarly to SMSs, posts in Twitter – known as tweets – are limited to 140 characters (characters are letters, digits and all other symbols, such as full-stop, comma, space, etc). Now, imagine that you want to include a link to an interesting news article in your tweet. Some of these links can be very long, easily reaching 100 characters, which leaves you with very little room for your own words. Using a URL shortening service reduces the number of characters needed for the link to around 20, leaving plenty of space for your musings.

Short URLs are also useful when sharing links with others. Let’s say a social studies teacher wants her students to use the Internet for research. She asks them to visit the CIA’s World Factbook page on Bhutan. The web address of this page is quite long: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/bt.html. Naturally, it is very easy for a student to make a mistake while typing in this long web address, resulting in the infamous “404 Not Found” error message. Alternatively, the teacher can use a URL shortening service to create a Short URL, which is easy to share and quick to type (just visit goo.gl/Fgq9J for CIA’s Bhutan page). It is also common to see Short URLs in printed material, such as newspaper articles, tenders, handouts etc.

I often use Google’s URL shortening service in my Tech Corner columns. Using the service is child’s play. Go to goo.gl, enter the long address, click Shorten URL, and a corresponding Short URL will be instantly created.

If you want to learn more about URL shortening, just go to goo.gl/YM8pc, which is – you guessed it – a Short URL.

Boaz Shmueli is a faculty member at the Rigsum Institute of IT & Management He blogs at ThimphuTech.com

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