Link Shorteners and the Eternal URL

URLs are (or should be) eternal. Once you create some content and slap it up on the web, people will start referencing it. If you change the URL or remove the content, then these references break – which is sad.

Enter link shorteners. All of a sudden, you are referencing a whole bunch of content (your own, and others) through an additional 3rd party. So now you not only have to worry about whether the referenced content will still be there, but also that the link shortener hasn’t run out of money and closed up shop too.

A big problem I see is that link shorteners earn no money (read: operating costs) when you simply click the links. They *do* get brand recognition, which helps drive people to their site to shorten links of their own (which in turn can earn money through ad impressions, etc). But what happens when we’ve all moved on to something new. The link shortener won’t be earning as much money (nobody shortning urls any more), but still has to pay to keep their infrastructure online.

This troubles me. And, with – a new link shortener for I am also now a link shortener operator!

To combat this potential issue, I propose the following idea: Somebody reputable (The Internet Archive would be a good candidate) creates a global link shortener database with 3 basic keys [domain, link key, full link]. Link shorteners can then periodically – or just when they go bust – import their database into this master database.

Then, if they do go bust, then can transfer their domain to The Internet Archive, to operate the links on a read-only basis. In the event such a transfer is not possible (such as Libya suddenly commandeering all .ly domains), then at least people could manually look up the short link through a form on The Internet Archive’s website. If link shorteners operators are concerned about people farming the DB, then perhaps the archive could be private, while said link shortener is in active operation.

Without such a service, the situation link shortener operators would face if they became unprofitable would be to keep paying the bills for the good of humanity, or hear a great many URLs cry out in terror before being suddenly silenced.

The short URL for this post is: ;-)

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