URL shorteners have been around for a number of years. They are most commonly created to track links, but they have other applications as well.
Tim Berner-Lee first coined the term Uniform Resource Locator in 1994. He’s also the inventor of the world wide web. Tim’s dream for the web was to create a digital space for sharing information.
The first patent for the URL shortener was filed in September 2000 and issued in 2005. The idea was a shorthand link associated with a registered URL and both logged in a registry database. When a request for the shorthand link is received, the registry database fetches the associated URL.
In 2002, Kevin Gilbertson founded TinyURL, the first URL shortening service. He was an avid unicycling fan and would shorten links to his favorite unicycling sites using TinyURL.
In 2003, Flicker implemented the concept of sharing photos via TinyURLs. Flickr users could give any URL a "secret" identified by a number and create a public photo album with all mini-sized images linked through these shortened URLs. This allowed users to share their album with friends or post them on internet forums without having to worry about the length of the original link, which was long and full of numbers, becoming difficult for people to remember.
During this time, other companies explored this concept too such as Google (Google Mini) and Microsoft (Windows Shortcuts).
These days, many companies are using URL shorteners to track clicks on links. These include Bitly, Goo.gl and more recently Facebook.
Twitter adopted the use of URL shortener in 2009 when they unveiled their own link-shrinking service called T.co which was built into Twitter messages themselves. This allows them to keep the actual tweet's character limit while keeping each link under 20 characters long (it is 22 characters including ".co").
Bitly is currently the most popular link tracking service worldwide with over 6 billion monthly shortened links tracked.
Shortened links are used for a variety of purposes but mostly for sharing on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn where users are limited by character length of posts or messages.
In 2009, the smallest URL for use in Twitter messages was introduced by Snipurl with a length of only 5 characters. According to their website: "SnipURL is the Smallest, Easiest and Fastest Shortener on the Web."
In 2010, Bitly announced that they would be charging $8/month to shorten URLs over 20 characters long. This caused some controversy online as many people felt that this was a price increase on an already free service offered by many other companies. In response to this negative feedback, Bitly discontinued their pricing plans later that year.
In March 2011, Michael McConville from Dublin revealed his own new URL shortening service called Phurlcom which he said is "dedicated to anonymity on the web". According to Michael, "unlike most shorteners Phurl will not track where you have been and what you do when you get there."
In May 2011, Facebook started using their own service called T.co which is integrated into their website.
In June 2012, Twitter announced that it would retire its old URL-shortening system, in favor of a new one built by Summify called twt.tl. This meant that all links posted through Twitter would be shortened using the new system, regardless if they were originally long or short URLs.
TinyURL was an early adopter of the concept of URL shorteners being used to shorten any type of link including those for photos.
On September 26, 2012, TinyURL announced it had reached 10 billion shortened URLs.
A more recent example of a URL shortening service is Goo.gl. It allows users to create shortened links on their own without having to use third-party services or sign up with another company entirely. According to their website, "Goo.gl is being developed by Google Labs."
TinyURL was created in 2002 and became popular for its ease of use and integration with other social media sites like Flickr and Twitter. Bitly has also been around since 2007 but didn't gain popularity until 2010 when they started charging for longer links over 20 characters long. A newer enterprise version called Bitly Enterprise launched in 2011 offering customers custom rules to handle and monitor their links.
In 2001, PC Magazine published an article about the history of URL shortening services after Kevin Gilbertson founded TinyURL in 2002. At this time there were only two other companies utilizing this idea.
The first patent for an improved URL shortener was filed in September 2000 by Taeho Oh, who later went on to create Goo.gl which launched publicly in December 2011 at the Le Web conference in Paris. The Goo.gl website has a demo video that explains how it works along with statistics on sharers of that link and where they are located. According to Google's John Mueller, "we've had quite a bit of interest already."
A second comprehensive list can be found here:
(List of URL shortening services)
I think that the idea of a shortened link to share information has been around since the use of hyperlinks which were first created by Tim Berners-Lee. The first patent for an improved URL shortener was filed in September 2000 and issued in 2005, but didn't see much use at that time because people viewed it as a lower level version compared to a fully developed webpage. I believe this is where Kevin Gilbertson founded TinyURL, one of the first real users of this concept through social media sharing sites like Flickr and Twitter. He also mentioned other competitors at this time being bitbybit and Snipurl. Bitly gained popularity in 2010 when they began charging for links over 20 characters in length. A newer service called Goo.gl was then released by Google Labs in December 2011, which is similar to Bitly's enterprise version offering customers custom rules.
Some of the main advantages of URL shorteners are the ease of use when sharing links with others on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Another advantage is that it cuts down on web page load time since they remove unneeded extra text. There can also be security benefits if someone would want to share information but doesn't want everyone else who may read the shortened link to be aware this information is being shared or what that specific piece of information is about. This could be used for things like passwords that shouldn't contained in plain text online, especially
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