Thursday 3 February 2011

It is all about Tweet Shortening, not just URL shortening

In short: Break the habit of using cryptic short urls and then adding some context to them manually. Instead, use a shortened version of your [brand] name as your domain, then write each "URL alias" in the style of a short facebook status update. For example:
If you're tweeting, you can then use the rest of the 140 characters much more efficiently - or not at all.

The Background

A few months ago, I decided to buy a domain name in Greece. Now, I love Greece, but that isn't why I did it. I dit it because I wanted my own, private, URL shortening service: It was primarily an excuse to geek out, but also served as a way to separate myself from millions of other tweeters - my tweets with link would always contain personalized short URLs.

A few days ago, I got around to building it. Sure, I could have bought it, but I wanted the challenge of maintaining it and hosting it too. To make a short story shorter, it is now live. I used it for real this morning, in this tweet. To save you a click, here it is:

After I had written it, I realized that I had saved myself a few characters by using a facebook style status update as the URL. Sure, that is handy, but there is another benefit too. Whenever anyone shares that link, your opinion/fact will be shared immediately, without requiring any additional context or anyone to click on anything. You are helping to ensure your voice does not morph as it is shared. If you are a brand or celebrity, that is pretty powerful. I'm sure someone has done this before, but I haven't seen it. In effect, isn't a URL shortening service, it has become my personal Tweet Shortening Service.

Tweet Shortening in Action

The link to this page is It might be a bit longer than the average link, but that URL is working much harder than most. It is not just a reference that goes alongside some context, it IS the context. That can be the tweet on its own. For example, I could tweet about this blog post as follows:
I wrote a blog post about being smarter with URLs:
But instead, I think I'll just tweet: - kind of.
Pompous? Definitely. Inaccurate? Maybe. Concise? Yes. Intriguing? I hope so. Effective? We'll see. (For the record, I don't really believe I've invented anything)

How to start get your own Tweet Shortening Service

In the off chance you want to join in, you can follow these steps:
  1. First of all, you should buy the domain you want to use to identify yourself. You might want to check out as a start.
  2. Now, you want to get a white-labeled URL shortener. I rolled my own, but I wouldn't recommend it for most people. It looks like ShortSwitch is a good option. For the majority of individuals, their $4 a month plan should suffice.
  3. Start writing short tweets! I suggest your first should be something like: "" linking to this blog post of course :-)

The problems with Tweet Shortening

There is one main reason why Tweet Shortening might not work: people will habitually (even automatically) shorten a URL and then manually add context to the cryptic link they've just produced. It is what they have been doing for months/years. Some apps even do it for you (TweetDeck, for example). In the process of this habitual/automatic shortening, the context rich URL will be lost. For example, if you enter the context-rich link to this post ( in TweetDeck, it auto-converts it to Damage done. Thankfully, you can disable this otherwise useful feature. Those smart folks at TweetDeck were also kind enough to make it easy to toggle on and off on a per-link basis.

That's it! I'm enjoying messing around with short tweets, I hope you do too.