URL shorteners – they’re great for turning a very long link into something much shorter and easier to work with. For a long time, I’ve used the service Google provides with Apps Engine called Google Short Links (not to be confused with Google’s Public Shortener). The key has always been trying to make very short links with the cwl.cc domain. With Google, the shortest I can get is three characters before the first period, so I chose url.cwl.cc. There had to be something better out there, and I found it in bit.ly.
I had seen others use Bit.ly on custom domains and really thought little of it. For example, if you take an Amazon link and try shorten it with Bit.ly, you’ll get something like http://amzn.to/RLOwiP . I thought it might be great to get a custom URL from them and use it in a similar way. Amazingly, the process is free and incredibly easy. You’ll simply create an account on Bit.ly and go to your advanced settings page. There are essentially two steps; Choose a name and create and verify DNS records in your domain. After that, all links you shorten under your account will use your custom domain.
The record I chose was u.cwl.cc, so you’ll see me using it in various places. url.cwl.cc will live on in more of a direct-link capacity.
There are some advantages Bit.ly brings over that of Google Short Links:
1. Tools, tools, tools – Bit.ly has been around for a while. They clearly know that people need access to making short links everywhere. Bit.ly has tools like an iOS app, a Chrome extension and even a great API. Compare that to Google’s website only approach and no API. If you were really going to try and brand all links, this reduces the work you’d have to do.
2. More options – And, that includes information about how your links are working. For example, taking a short link and adding a + to tend gives you a wealth of statistics and details about the link’s effectiveness. Here, take a look: u.cwl.cc/12GRAht+. Google offers a simple click count.
So far, Bit.ly looks like a great service and I’m looking forward to seeing how it changes the way I make, create and share short links. There are a great many who despise short linking services, but I feel the usefulness of them outweighs the many cases of abuse I’ve seen. The web has always been about pages that link to each other, and the ease of using those links – after all, why bother turning an IP into a domain if that becomes a 250 character URL that no one can type?.