Article: "A Tangled Web of Shortened Links"
Last month, the Libyan government temporarily cut off access to the Internet within the nation’s borders. The goal was to control the flow of information to the public and disrupt coordination among the demonstrators. The shutdown failed to do either, but for a while it threatened to have an odd side effect: impairing the functioning of websites using Libya’s “.ly” domains, including the popular service bit.ly, which millions use to turn long Web links into short ones that can be sent out on Twitter.
New research from the Foundation for Research and Technology in Athens, Greece, and Microsoft Research in Cambridge, U.K., shows just how much is shared this way. And it suggests that the practice may be slowing down parts of the Internet.
The researchers analyzed millions of shortened links by crawling Twitter and generating and testing possible links for two shortening services, bit.ly and ow.ly. They found that a very small number of shortened links account for the majority of traffic, and that use of the shortening services occurs mainly in the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom. It is virtually absent in India and China. Links to YouTube accounted for more than 10 percent of all bit.ly traffic.
According to Twitter, around 25 percent of tweets contain a URL. Character efficiency isn’t the only reason to use shortened links. Services like bit.ly also offer sophisticated analytics packages, allowing users to see when, where, and how people click on links.
Jon Kleinberg, an expert on the study of networks and professor of computer science at Cornell University, says link-shortening services offer a special opportunity for future research. “It has typically been difficult to study usage at this level of granularity, since the information about visits to many different Web pages didn’t necessarily all reside in a single easy-to-access location,” he says. “With shortening services, there is a single point through which the information about accesses will flow, and this makes it possible to undertake kinds of analysis that would have previously been much more difficult.”
About Gary Price
Gary Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.