If you use Twitterfall (and why wouldn’t you!) you might notice that sometimes tweets in your timeline contain URLs that wouldn’t fit in a tweet (and you hadn’t hovered over it to automatically expand it). How does that work?
That’s because the URL had been shortened, but it had been shortened using t.co – Twitter’s own URL shortener. When that tweet was sent to Twitterfall, Twitter sent some extra information called Tweet Entities which included details about the full URL of the link which Twitterfall then used to replace the t.co URL with the full URL. Twitter for Mac doesn’t even do this. In fact I don’t know any other client that does. Yet this is a brilliant idea and it helps explain why I think Twitter should let everyone shorten URLs using t.co so we can abolish most short URLs.
No short URLs = better security
Why do I want shortened links to be expanded by standard? Security. By showing the real URL people know where they are going and can avoid suspicious looking URLs. Yes people can still use a URL shortener as well as the URL being shortened by Twitter, but if t.co was the norm, people would be more suspicious of shortened URLs, which is how it should be.
No short URLs = better for the future
Any service archiving tweets for posterity can also archive Tweet Entities, and in doing so can preserve the original link, even if Twitter shut down their URL shortener. This gets round the problem of URL shortening services shutting down and all the links in tweets stopping working. You could do this by fetching the real URL for every short URL but that’s just a stupid hack and doesn’t deal with the real problem.
Why isn’t everyone using t.co?
As is the case with Twitter recently this wonderful service is a private API; only some of Twitter.com (direct messages; where t.co all began) and Twitter for Mac can create them. Yet if they opened the service up to all clients, we could really start moving along to abolishing a large portion of URL shortener usage and all the security issues that come with it. I expect they will do this in the future, because it will help them sell analytics. But the sooner the better in my opinion. We’ve been waiting long enough, Dave Winer talked about fixing URL shorteners way back in 2009.
At the end of the day, URL shorteners are essentially a hack. Their main use today is to get round the 140 character restriction on Twitter and that’s just stupid. In that sense, they should be abolished.