URL shortening it’s nasty but it’s also unnecessary

URL shortening is just wrong and it’s not just me that thinks so Joshua Schachter thinks so too and Simon Willison has a partial solution. The reason various folk are worried about URL shortening and think that it’s largely evil is because it breaks the web.

"The weakest link" by Darwin Bell. Some rights reserved.
"The weakest link" by Darwin Bell. Some rights reserved.

URLs need to be persistent and that’s not so likely when you use these services. But the ever increasing popularity of Twitter, who impose a 140 character limit on tweets, means that more and more URLs are getting shortened. The ridiculous thing is it isn’t even necessary.

In addition to the rev=”canonical” fix that Kellan proposed Michael has also recently come across longurl.org which

…could solve at least some of these problems. It provides a service to expand short urls from many, many providers into long urls

That’s cool because:

it caches the expansion so has a persistent store of short <> long mappings. They plan to expose these mappings on the web which would also solve [reliance on 3rd party – if they go out of business links break]

Of course what would be extra cool would be if, in addition to the source code being open sourced, so was the underlying database. That way if anything happened to longurl.org someone else could resurrect the service.

All good stuff. But the really ironic thing is that none of this should be neccessary. The ‘in 140 characters or less’ thing isn’t true. As Michael points out:

if i write a tweet to the 140 limit that includes a link then <a href=”whatever”>whatever</a> will be added to the message. so whilst the visible part of the message is limited to 140 chars the message source isn’t. There’s no reason twitter couldn’t use the long url in the href whilst keeping the short url as the link text…

All Twitter really needs to do is provide their own shortening service – if you enter anything that starts “http://&#8221; it gets shortened in the visable message. Of course it doesn’t really need to actually provide a unique, hashed URL, it could convert the anchor text to “link” or the first few letters of the title of the target page while retaining the full-fat, canonical URL in the href.

Interesting stuff from around the web 2009-04-22

Amazing render job by Alessandro Prodan
Amazing render job by Alessandro Prodan

The open web

Does OpenID need to be hard? [factoryjoe.com]
Chris considers “the big fat stinking elephant in the room: OpenID usability and the paradox of choice” as usual it’s a good read.

I wonder whether restricting the OpenID providers displayed based on visited link would help? i.e. hide those that haven’t been visited? It clearly wouldn’t be perfect – Google isn’t my OpenID provider but I visit google.com lots, but it should cut down some of the clutter.

Security flaw leads Twitter, others to pull OAuth support [cnet.com]
The hole makes it possible for a hacker to use social-engineering tactics to trick users into exposing their data. The OAuth protocol itself requires tweaking to remove the vulnerability, and a source close to OAuth’s development team said that there have been no known violations, that it has been aware of it for a few days now, and has been coordinating responses with vendors. A solution should be announced soon.

Twitter and social networks

Relationship Symmetry in Social Networks: Why Facebook will go Fully Asymmetric [bokardo.com]
Asymmetric model better mimics how real attention works…and how it has always worked. Any person using Twitter can have a larger number of followers than followees, effectively giving them more attention than they give. This attention inequality is the foundation of the Twitter service… The IA of Facebook does not allow this. Facebook has designed a service that forces you to keep track of your friends, whether you want to or not. Facebook is modeling personal relationships, not relationships based on attention. That’s the crucial difference between Facebook and Twitter at the moment.

When Twitter Gets Weird… [Dave Gorman]
“The difference between following someone and replying to them is the difference between stopping to chat with someone in the street or giving them a badge declaring that you know them. One is actual interaction. The other is just something you can show your friends.” Blimey – Dave Gorman clearly has a much better grasp of life, the web and being a human than the two people who attacked him for not following them on Twitter. As Dave points out he hopes that Twiiter doesn’t descend into the MySpace “thanks for the add’ nonsense”. Me too.

Google profiles included in search results [googleblog]
A new “Profile results” section will appear at the bottom of a Google search page, when it finds a strong match in response to a name-based search. But only in the US. To help things along remember to use rel=me elsewhere (here’s how).

Shortlisted for a BAFTA, launch of clickable tracklistings and the start of BBC Earth

Look, look clickable tracklistings, w00t!
Few will every know the pain to get this useful little (cross domain) feature live.

We’ve been shortlisted for an Interactive Innovation BAFTA
The /programmes aka Automated Programme Support project. So proud.

Out of the Wild [bbc.co.uk]
Our first tentative steps towards improving the BBC’s online natural history offering. Out of The Wild seeks to bring you stories from BBC crews on location. Eventually this should all form part of an integrated programme offer.

Stuff

Biological Taxonomy Vocabulary
An RDF vocabulary for the taxonomy of all forms of life.

On url shorteners [joshua.schachter.org]
Joshua Schachter considers the issues associated with URL shortening. Similar argument to the one I put forward in “The URL shortening antipattern” but with some useful recommendations: “One important conclusion is that services providing transit (or at least require a shortening service) should at least log all redirects, in case the shortening services disappear. If the data is as important as everyone seems to think, they should own it. And websites that generate very long URLs, such as map sites, could provide their own shortening services. Or, better yet, take steps to keep the URLs from growing monstrous in the first place.”

Interesting stuff from around the web 2009-03-20

Ben Seagal, Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Calliau with the WWW proposal and first webserver at the WWW@20 celebrations, CERN
Ben Seagal, Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Calliau with TimBL's original proposal and first webserver at the WWW@20 celebrations, CERN

Semantic web news

Linked Data? Web of Data? Semantic Web? WTF? [Tom Heath]
“Think about HTML documents; when people started weaving these together with hyperlinks we got a Web of documents. Now think about data. When people started weaving individual bits of data together with RDF triples (that expressed the relationship between these bits of data) we saw the emergence of a Web of data. Linked Data is no more complex than this – connecting related data across the Web using URIs, HTTP and RDF.”

The Programmes Ontology [BBC]
Yves has updated the programmes ontology to handle “temporal annotations” tracklistings and segments and outlets etc.

Twitter news

The Twitter Global Mind [Rocketboom]
Don’t understand what all the fuss about Twitter? Watch this. Yes it’s about social networking and communication but it’s also about realtime search.

Twitter to begin charging brands for commercial use [Brand Republic News]
Co-founder Biz Stone told Marketing: ‘We are noticing more companies using Twitter and individuals following them. We can identify ways to make this experience even more valuable and charge for commercial accounts.’ He would not be drawn on the level of charges.

Some interesting visualisations

Depressing Project of the Day: Stock Market, Set to Music with Microsoft Songsmith [Create Digital Music]
Thanks to Yves. The failing economy set to music.

Periodic Table of Typefaces on the Behance Network [behance.net]
“The Periodic Table of Typefaces is obviously in the style of all the thousands of over-sized Periodic Table of Elements posters hanging in schools and homes around the world. This particular table lists 100 of the most popular, influential and notorious typefaces today. As with traditional periodic tables, this table presents the subject matter grouped categorically. The Table of Typefaces groups by families and classes of typefaces: san-serif, serif, script, blackletter, glyphic, display, grotesque, realist, didone, garalde, geometric, humanist, slab-serif and mixed.”

The open web

What is the Open Platform? [guardian.co.uk]
“The Open Platform is the suite of services that make it possible for guardian.co.uk to build applications with the Guardian…” very nice, I hope others follow. I also wish the Beeb recognized it’s open projects (recognized internally that is).

RadioAunty feature update – twitter, scheduling and much more [whomwah]
RadioAunty is Mac app that allows you to listen to live and catchup BBC Radio. It’s a lovely app and is built on an open BBC platform :)

Monty Python DVD sales soar thanks to YouTube clips [guardian.co.uk]
“Within days of the launch of the official Monty Python YouTube channel, sales of the DVD box set had gone up by 16,000% on Amazon”

Designing for your least able user [BBC Radio Labs]
Michael’s mighty post on SEO, accessibility and the joy of links. Read it.