What, Was It URL Shortener Day Or Something?

It must have been World URL Shortener Day yesterday.

First came the news that Facebook has been testing a URL shortener, fb.me. Then Google announced the arrival of Goo.gl. And though it wasn't as flashy as the first two pieces of news, those paying attention saw that URL shortener powerhouse bit.ly announced a new Pro version that allows users to create custom shortened URLs.

Let's face it. Some URL are so long and cumbersome that there's no way to even read it to someone over the phone or shout it across the room. When you're linking to an image on a page in a subdirectory, the URL can go on for approximately 12,000 pages, it seems. So even before Twitter, there was a call for tinyurl.com (which, incidentally, allowed you to customize your shortened URL) and its many imitators. Newer iterations, however, give you serious analytics to go along with the shortened URL, so they've become essential devices in measuring traffic and where it came from.

The rise of Twitter from geek to mainstream status has made them even more essential, and earlier this year bit.ly introduced j.mp, which just may be the shortest URL shortener on the planet. StumbleUpon has its own - su.pr; Digg does, too - digg.com, with the post-slash portion always starting with a "d" before the series of letters and numbers.

Bit.ly's analytics give you information on where the clicks came from, including AIR apps. Su.pr suggests the best time of day for you to share its links via Twitter and/or Facebook. Digg's simply tells you how many views you've had (Digg's shortener is a bit different from the rest as its primary purpose is to bring new traffic to Digg.com - if you're not already signed in to Digg, clicking on the link will take you to a Digg page rather than the article page with the frame at the top.
What's interesting about these new shorteners is that Facebook and Google are the Big Boys.

Facebook is the largest social networking site in the world, with more than 350 million subscribers (more than the population of the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau). It's not providing analytics yet, but if it decides to do that, it could automatically become the default. So many people on Facebook are not big users of Twitter or other applications where shorteners are used. Some may not even be aware that URL shorteners exist. If they start using the Facebook shortener because it's there, it could become a monster in the field almost overnight. Also nice: Any Facebook link can be shortened just by adding "fb.me" where "www.facebook.com" is - so http://fb.me/HotHardware takes you automatically to http://www.facebook.com/HotHardware, for example.

Of course, until Facebook starts providing analytics, people who are using bit.ly and similar services aren't going to make the jump.

As for Google, the 'Net behemoth has made few missteps to this point. Despite its gargantuan size and the massive amounts of data about ordinary people that it has control over, it has a pretty good reputation and most people like the company. If Google were to somehow merge the shortener with Google Analytics, which already is the top free analytics tool for bloggers, it could easily take over. It also is only available on Google URLs for now anyway.

But for now, bit.ly is the default URL shortener on Twitter, which is where the largest number of people are using the shorteners. With an app like TweetDeck, for example, you don't even have to press a button to shorten if you don't want - it can be set up to auto-shorten any URL, and unless you change your preferences, bit.ly's what you'll get. So the company's decision to give paying users the ability to customize is shrewd. Instead of a publication such as the New York Times branding another product through its shortened URLs, for example, the company can create a shortened URL base of "nyti.ms," which would make it more transparent to the end user where they're clicking through to even without the new anti-shorteners that have sprung up, such as "untiny.me" and "real-url.org."