.ru Real.ly A Virus?

I’ll be honest. I haven’t exactly been a huge tweeter… Occasionally, I’ll check out what my buddies have been tweeting. Rarely, though, will l post anything…

During my infrequent twisits, I noticed the occasional tweet baring a suspiciously-short URL (such as “http://bit.ly/d0X6oK“). I assumed the URL’s presence was due to the fact Twitter was seeing so much traffic and figured they just hadn’t found a way to effectively weed out such “crazy” (read: computer-killing) web links. [To give an idea of how much traffic Twitter gets, just last week, TechCrunch.com reported that Twitter has hit the 50 Million Tweets per Day mark!)

Being one to avoid such virus-spreading traps as opening “dancing bear” emails or clicking on mysterious hypertext, I generally steer clear of following unsolicited links with foreign suffixes [like “.ru” (Russia) and “.cn” (China)] …better safe than sorry, right? And, as I wasn’t familiar with the funny-looking bit.ly domain, opting to visit tweeted URLs like “bit.ly/ANyTH1Ng” was pretty much out of the question. (btw, “.ly” is for Libya.)

So, when I stumbled across an article this afternoon telling of investors infusing “another $1.5 million” into bit.ly, I figured I may be under a false impression and decided I’d investigate. Come to find out, bit.ly is hardly the cyber-cesspit I’d unconsciously mis-categorized it as…

What the F is bit.ly?

So, if bit.ly isn’t a link to a bit torrent site that will auto-install spyware, what is it? Bit.ly describes itself as “a utility that allows users to shorten a long URL, share it, and then track the resulting usage.” A bit.ly link is a link generated by the site’s URL shortening service found at www.bit.ly“.

Why would you need to shorten a URL?

Good question. You’ll often see URL shortening services (like bit.ly) associated with social networking sites. Sites like Twitter limit the number of characters you can send in a message so using “http://bit.ly/9zeUYd” rather than “http://www.zettaphile.com/2010/02/22/ipad-or-ifad-whats-next-after-the-ipads-ho-hum-reception/” can save you about 75 characters (aka about half a tweet.)

There are a number of other popular URL shortening services out there, such as tinyURL and is.gd…and the list seems to be growing. In fact, in September of last year, bit.ly launched another domain which does the same thing, but saves you 2 characters: j.mp (interesting.ly–sorry, couldn’t resist–if you try the same URL above with j.mp instead [so, j.mp/9zeUYd], you’ll be directed to the same page.)

Btw, you may be interested to know that bit.ly is Twitter’s default URL shortener.

Do I Need to Know HTML to Use bit.ly?

No, in fact, it’s so easy anyone who can navigate to a web address can do it! To create a shortened URL, you enter the full URL you’d like to shorten, hit the button labeled “Shorten”…and, voila! It assigns your URL a new link. For example, the shortened URL for this web page is “http://bit.ly/cm3yFQ” (to prevent confusion, if you click this link, it will take you back to this page…)

What’re the Basic Pros & Cons of URL Shortners?

Well, according to an article on the pros and cons of URL shortners posted on the official WatchMouse Blog, the pros include being able to track & analyze clicks and being able to have a physically shorter URL.

Among the cons listed were that URL shortners add an additional potential point of failure (by incorporating another link into the chain) and the additional load time for pages linked to to fully load. Interestingly, from their testing only two shorteners showed 100% uptime–goo.gl and twt.tl. (Fairing the worst in terms of performance, surprisingly, was Facebook’s fb.me.)

Is That All There Is To Know About bit.ly?

Heck no! But in the spirit of bit.ly, I’ll end this article on the basics of bit.ly here. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can benefit from using this URL shortener, including how to see how many times your link was clicked on, check out bit.ly’s FAQs page.