Today just must be my day for commentary on social media…

In case you’re ever interested, there’s a really great piece of open source software called YouURLS available at Yourls.org.  It is a LAMP1 architecture URL shortening software.  It’s about as easy to install as WordPress and reasonably barebones.  But, once installed, “it just works.”  A few weeks ago I became enamored with the idea of having my own URL shortener, so I went out on the hunt for possible cool names.  A lot of the good short names are already taken, prohibitively expensive2 , or are reserved/unavailable since many TLD’s3 don’t allow 1 and 2 letter domains. 4

There are some potential problems with running your own short URL service.  First, if you don’t intend to keep it around forever it isn’t that much use to people in general.  Second, the market space is pretty well packed already.  Third, anyone can have their very own URL service for the price of a domain name5 , some hosting6 , and an installation of YOURLS7 .  Fourth, some spammers/scammers/phishers are always on the lookout for legitimate but unknown URL shorteners so they can obfuscate their spammy/scammy URL’s – and you don’t want to be associated with that kinda mess anyhow.

But, if you just want one because you really like the idea and aren’t going to make it public to anyone else…  why not do it?  Want to know the short URL domain name I chose?  Well, I’m going to tell you anyhow.

http://shor.tw

Cool, huh?  It fit all of my criteria.  It wasn’t too expensive8 , is very short at just 7 characters for the entire URL910 , and is memorable/clever.  It’s not public, because I don’t want to deal with spammers and whatnot, but I can think of a number of cool uses for such a service.  And, of course, I’d welcome any of your suggestions.

  1. Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP, natch []
  2. As in $150-$500/year []
  3. Top level domains – .com, .net, etc []
  4. When you’re Twitter getting hold of the person in charge of holding the reserved “t.co” was probably not a problem. []
  5. Which is cheap starting at 1.99 []
  6. Free to cheap []
  7. Free to modest, if you have someone install it for you []
  8. At $35/year it was more expensive than any URL I have ever purchased, but still quite modest []
  9. Not counting the “HTTP://”, which is the same no matter what you have. []
  10. It is even shorter than one of the first such services, TinyURL.com which is 11 characters []

Twitter’s cute little information gathering tool… the short URL

You’ve probably seen Twitter’s URL shortener, “t.co”, pop up in links.  Then again, you might not even realize it’s there.  Whenever you post a link, it will be shortened with this service automatically.  Interestingly, even a URL that is short enough already, or shortened with another service, will still be shortened into a “t.co” short link.  Their FAQ suggests that all of your links and even your URL shorteners will still work.  It’s just that your click will get passed through “t.co” before it goes on to the URL shortener and then on to your final destination. 1

The reason why seems pretty obvious – because they want to see what people are clicking on and why.  As with other social websites, the users are the product and commodity being sold to advertisers.  Don’t get me wrong – I don’t have a philosophical problem with this.  It seems a decent and legitimate enterprise and a reasonable bargain with the end user for the free use of their service. 2

So, I’m the kind of guy who, seeing a link on a website will sometimes copy and paste that link into an open browser tab, rather than clicking on it.  Sure, it’s 10 more seconds out of my day – but it gives me a perverse little bit of pleasure to thwart such information surveillance.  Imagine my surprise today to discover that this didn’t work!  I went to Twitter, highlighted and copied a Bit.ly link, and pasted it into an address bar.  But what appeared was the “t.co” link!  I figured I must have messed up the coping, so I did it again. 3  Again, I get the “t.co” link.  Once more into the breach.  Again, the same “t.co” link.

Then I notice that each time I hit “Ctrl-C” or right click on the highlighted link the link text flashes for just a moment.  I do it a few more times and realize what’s happening.

Whenever the Javascript in Twitter’s website detects a “Ctrl-C” or right mouse click on a link, which has the CSS class “twitter-timeline-link”, it will swap out the text of the URL for the “t.co” shortened URL.

This little bit of tech just tickles me.  I can conceive of a legitimate reason for this behavior – ubiquitous and imperceptible URL shortening for the ease of all users. 4  But, really, this is just about controlling all links that originate from Twitter so that they can aggregate and analyze.  I just admire this behavior because it is just so slick and nearly totally seamless.

  1. I would point out that when the URL appears in an RSS feed, it shows up as a “t.co” link, which goes through “bit.ly”, instead of the actual link itself. []
  2. I’m not trying to describe their service in any pejorative terms, I’m just trying to describe it accurately.  I don’t think anyone would dispute this is their business model. []
  3. After all, Ctrl-C can get pretty complicated. []
  4. Perhaps you were going to copy/paste the URL into an e-mail and now you won’t have to worry about a broken URL []

Has Google become evil?

I’m not a fan of Facebook or Google Plus.  However, Google’s new “real name” policy is really getting on my nerves.  My Google Plus account is under the pseudonym of “MakerBlock,” so I might as well save them the trouble of suspending my accounts and just delete it now.

Eric Schmidt recently publicly stated Google Plus isn’t a social networking service, it’s an identity service.  The justification for this position was that Google Plus would be better able to serve us by knowing who we really are as well as ranking downwards those people who really are evil.  But, really, Google’s business is selling advertising to those people most likely to be interested based on their research of those people by studying, on a grand scale, every aspect of their lives. 12

I get that the person who logs into Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, or Google Plus aren’t the real customers, that we’re just the product.  This makes sense and, in some cases, seems a fair trade.  It’s a funny line these businesses must walk, however.  Cater too much to the advertisers, and you lose your audience.  Cater too much to the audience, and perhaps you’ll lose advertisers.  I understand, from a business perspective, wanting to know as much about your users as possible.  But, after a certain point it just gets creepy.

No one was really offended by Facebook’s policies until relatively recently – a few data breaches here, a few account suspensions there.  And then they stopped people from treating the data those people created (or consumed) as portable.  People were fine with Google Plus until Google really started enforcing this position.

I suppose, for me, the fundamental issue may just be respect.  I think Google and Facebook have lost respect for their users.  While their business models clearly require observation of the user, it is the difference between watching animals on a wild life preserve versus watching animals in the zoo.  When those policies start to close in around the user – and they can start to see the high walls and feel like they are being watched – that’s when people start to grumble and leave.

  1. I really doubt Google would dispute that description. []
  2. Hell, it’s probably in their marketing materials… []