Short URL Link Rot

Image credit: Josh Atwell

Short URL Link Rot

The notion of “link rot” comes up from time to time in blog type discussions where someone has a passing preservation or historical bent.  The real-time nature of content being consumed and the promoted concepts of brevity have led to the perceived need for short URLs.  Now witness the glory of short URL services.

Of course, this isn’t new. In fact, the bulk of this post comes from a year old comment I made over at VentureBeat that was previously unavailable to refer back to when VentureBeat wiped all legacy comments (WordPress?) from view before importing them back into DISQUS.  I don’t know what the URL anchor to my comment would have been within WordPress but Google cached a copy and I was able to find it.  Lucky huh?  Lucky probably won’t work long term though.  You see, the article was relating to short URL’s or so-called URL shortening services.

What I had to say then is the same thing I have to say now about these short URL services:

Let’s hope they have an archive.org export or database escrow in their funding plans.

Here’s what I mean:  I’ve been using LiveJournal for a long time (+10 years in fact).  One of the things I loved about LiveJournal was how easily I could post links to my favorite cNet articles from news.com. It was awesome. I could post a link, a comment on it, and it was fun to share with folks/etc. Of course, this was before this whole share-centric web evolved before our eyes in the past few years.

One of the areas I’ve been interested in lately in the wake of our here today and gone tomorrow approach to the web has been link rot. After reviewing some of my entries from years gone by on LiveJournal, my comments and links to news.com just don’t make any sense now.

Why?

Well, the URL’s I posted don’t go anywhere useful, there is no context relevant SEO word loading… etc.. etc… it’s just a 404 Not Found redirecting to a page with no help or relevant hint as to what I was referring to or talking about. I also learned that “Hah, this is cool!” does not make for very good metadata. Lesson learned.

So, I have to wonder how long short.url/something will really be available for the long haul… whatever that long haul might be. If a tinyurl.com or the many clones die… what happens to their hash database tables that present the magic 301 redirect to where you would be going? What about that? Does it matter?
To that end…

http://tinyurl.com/thiswascool10yearsago
and
http://bit.ly/thiswascool10yearsago

The other thing that has come up with services such as Twitter and Facebook that increasingly take over third-party functions and make them core functions.  In the case of short URL and redirection, doing a double redirect will likely have different approaches to “protect” those using the service. This could be interstitials, Digg-like bars that frame content, or any of a variety of methods that just alter the status quo of how things work(ed) when navigating the web.

The innovation will likely have some concerns raised as it becomes more pervasive and visible to the masses.  What is less likely is that the bank shot will work 100% of the time. That’s the part of this that hasn’t been explored at high volume.  Ultimately, this comes down to the desire to recreate AOL key words or somehow create artificial scarcity in name space.

Let’s just hope those crazy combination bank shots are recorded somewhere for posterity and that someone made enough money to license re-runs.