What Twitter's t.co Means for Link Shortener APIs

Adam DuVander
Jun. 10 2010, 12:42AM EDT

Twitter recently announced what developers have been expecting since at least its Chirp conference. Links posted to Twitter will soon be passed through the company's own link shortener, t.co. It could be bad news for other services built to fill the link shortening need, such as Bit.ly (our Bit.ly API profile).

The company announced that length shouldn't matter, saying the move is a matter of "user experience, safety and value:"

When this is rolled out more broadly to users this summer, all links shared on Twitter.com or third-party apps will be wrapped with a t.co URL. A really long link such as http://www.amazon.com/Delivering-Happiness-Profits-Passion-Purpose/dp/0446563048 might be wrapped as http://t.co/DRo0trj for display on SMS, but it could be displayed to web or application users as amazon.com/Delivering- or as the whole URL or page title. Ultimately, we want to display links in a way that removes the obscurity of shortened link and lets you know where a link will take you.

Business Insider calls the move a Bit.ly killer, but also claims the short link company could survive because of its white label service. Indeed, Bit.ly is most impacted because it was previously the default link shortener on Twitter. However, it is also likely in a better place than most link shorteners (and there are indeed plenty: we have over 15 link shorteners with APIs in our directory).

URL shortening has a hiatus from usefulness for a number of years before Twitter came along. They were originally used to prevent line wrapping in email. And if you doubt that Twitter is the main reason for their current popularity, check out our coverage of tr.im. The service shut down after Twitter chose Bit.ly as the default shortener.

It is not the first time that Twitter has seen a need in its platform currently being served and provided an official solution. It announced the retweet API last August and one could see Annotations as a replacement for hash tags. Of course, famously, @reply messages came from Twitter watching how its service was used.

Adam DuVander -- Adam heads developer relations at Orchestrate, a database-as-a-service company. He's spent many years analyzing APIs and developer tools. Previously he worked at SendGrid, edited ProgrammableWeb and wrote for Wired and Webmonkey. Adam is also the author of mapping API cookbook Map Scripting 101.

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