Although they’ve been around for years (tinyurl for example), the reason for the rise in popularity is undoubtedly Twitter with its need for brevity. So much so that some are getting funding in the millions (see my post on bit.ly a few weeks back for example).
What if Twitter changed?
But I wonder what would happen if Twitter decided to change its 140 character rule. What if they decided to add a new field for a full URL as part of their interface. One that you could enter any length URL into. You’d still be limited to 140 characters for your message, but the full URL could be ‘attached’ at no cost.
Its unlikely to happen of course, since it’d be a departure from their ‘keep it simple’ approach, and there’d also be outcry from all the Twitter clients (but, hey Twitter happily changed their email format without much care for the 3rd parties, so that probably wouldn’t stop them making other changes).
But just consider for a moment if Twitter did make a change like this.
Besides all the visible benefits to users (ie no need to have shorteners, ability to see the URL and make a judgement call about whether you wanted to visit the site, ability for 3rd parties to easily identify popular domains being tweeted about, and the list goes on), there’d also be one less step in most people’s process (although only small, there is bandwidth and latency overhead in having to visit the shortener site and then be redirected).
But then there’s the most interesting part:
What would happen to all the URL shorteners? They’d be rendered obsolete overnight.
Barriers for the sake of barriers
And here’s why I find this whole thing interesting:
One company – Twitter – has effectively put in place a barrier (the 140 character limit).
And now other companies are securing millions in order to overcome the barrier.
The net result to users is unchanged – they can include URLs in their tweets.
But the cost is high (3rd party services, obfuscated URLs, additional bandwidth overheads).
Taking a step back and looking at this, it seems inefficient and counterintuitive.
Far from encouraging efficiency, sometimes I think the Tech industry adds more inefficiency than it cares to acknowledge.