The “URL shortener” concept is very simple: take an URL and transform it into another (shorter) URL, then use redirection to go back to the first URL. So what’s the deal? It’s the number of characters stupid! Said in other terms: websites often produce URLs so long that it becomes unpractical transferring them to your fellows or friends with other means that the digital communication tools (i.e. copy and paste, in fact it’s very difficult to dictate on the phone an URL 150 characters long full of special characters and unintelligible words). Even when the URL is humanly sized, it cannot be embedded in a discourse or printed out on your last magazine article if it’s not very very short. Another problem arose with the advent of media like Twitter, where size matters (and size is almost all the added value of the media itself): having short URLs quickly became a must, without it was impossible to communicate at all (think about having only 140 characters available).
Probably now it’s clear that URL shortening is not only something useful but can constitute a service by itself: in fact, out in the wild there are a lot of URL shortening services to which you can outsource all your shortening needs. Beware, though, that one should select carefully which service to use, because if you use it a lot on your site(s) and it goes down, no link on your site will work at all!
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