May 4, 2011 – How many times have you come across a great news story, website, or blog post that you want to share with a colleague? Then you copy and paste that very long website address (URL) into your email message, and to your frustration, your colleague tells you the link did not work.
Several free online URL shorteners are available. URL shorteners take an unruly link and convert it to something quite manageable. The best part is that they are easy to use. Just copy the original URL, paste it into the shortener tool, and it produces a new condensed link. The new link will not break and will not expire.
tinyURL and Bit.ly
Two popular URL shorteners are TinyURL and Bit.ly. Both perform the same general task; however TinyURL offers a nice customization feature. As an example, a prior Inside Track article I authored can be found at http://www.wisbar.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=InsideTrack&Template=/CustomSource/InsideTrack/contentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=101445. Using TinyURL, I took this 128-character string and created this new 36-character custom link, http://tinyurl.com/butulainsidetrack.
Bit.ly, used frequently on Twitter and Facebook, offers its own useful features. Bit.ly provides a variety of options to create, share, and track the shortened URLs. These improvements make it a standard utility for use with social networking websites.
Fur.ly: Shorter multiple URLs
Fur.ly is one of my personal favorites. This tool can shorten multiple URLs into a single URL. Fur.ly can store up to 50 websites or news addresses in a single link. The recipient of the Fur.ly link can look at all of the websites from one location.
To illustrate, let’s imagine there are several websites pertaining to electronic discovery issues that you want to share. You could list them all individually in an email or add them to Fur.ly and have a permanent URL that captures this collection of websites. The image below demonstrates.
After all the websites have been added, click on the “go” button to get the permanent link. In this example, the new link is http://www.fur.ly/5mcg.
When you or your colleagues launch this new URL, a screen will appear to easily toggle between all the websites in your electronic discovery website collection. The top toolbar shows the number of sites in the group, the URL of the website currently on the screen, and statistical information regarding the number of views.
Other URL shorteners
McAfee, the antivirus company, offers a URL shortener as an add-on for Firefox 4 and Google Chrome. In addition to reducing the size of the original document’s URL, an additional McAfee benefit includes an automatic scan of the original website or news story to ensure the site is safe and free of malware.
A new and possibly controversial URL shortener is Rdd.me. Rdd.me not only shortens a long web address but presents the final product in a cleaner format. Just like other URL shorteners, the researcher creates a new distinct URL using the Rdd.me utility. Readers following the shortened link are offered the option to remove the advertisements and other distractions surrounding the primary story. For additional information on this new tool, read the Technology Review story, Why New Link Shortener Rdd.me Stands Out or the recent article on Rdd.me found on MakeUseOf.
Not to be left out, Google also offers a URL shortener called Goo.gl. It functions in the same manner as the others mentioned. It also includes click analytics to monitor the usage frequency.
URL shorteners are a great way to streamline long web addresses that could potentially break when inserted into an email. They also are an excellent way to link to a web document via a social networking site where space may be at a premium. However, when using any URL shortener, the original underlying web address is gone. There may be no way for the recipients to determine the source of the document.
About the author
Bev Butula is the manager of library of services at Davis & Kuelthau, Milwaukee. She is a past president of the Law Librarians Association of Wisconsin. Butula has written articles and spoken to numerous groups on issues such as effective Internet research, evaluation of websites, and legal research. Prior to obtaining her Master’s Degree in Library Science from UWM, Butula was a litigation paralegal.