Starting this morning, Twitter seems to have pre-empted all URL-shortening services in favor of t.co for all Tweets sent through its network. I noticed this not only because all the tweets I follow are t.co infested, but also because Tweets I sent this morning shorted via bit.ly were re-shortened via t.co.
This is not exactly what Twitter said it was doing. The most recent (August 5) posting to the developer blog by (“developer advocate”) Taylor Singletary announced:
Beginning August 15th, when a user tweets or sends a direct message containing a URL 20 characters long or greater (the length of URLs wrapped with t.co), the URL will automatically be converted to a t.co-wrapped link. We will eventually wrap all links, regardless of length, but until then there's nothing you need to do to support this change. When we're ready to wrap all links, we'll give you plenty of time and make another announcement.OK, so it’s 2 days early. But more importantly, the 20-character limit means that effectively all links are being rewritten: bit.ly, lat.ms, nyi.ms. (Note that the “http://” costs everyone 7 characters, whereas “www.” only costs 4)
Interestingly, the tweets are being sent with the t.co, those tweets link to the t.co if you copy the link on the Twitter website, but are being shown using the original URL. So the tweet I sent this morning from @openITstrat looked like this when I sent it:
NYT obit: CCNY prof Daniel McCracken (1930-2011), who wrote best-selling Fortran and Cobol texts http://nyti.ms/rjixBb (I owned both)but on my client looks like this:
NYT obit: CCNY prof Daniel McCracken (1930-2011), who wrote best-selling Fortran and Cobol texts http://t.co/PpFFjXV (I owned both)On Twitter.com, it looks like this:
@openITstratwith the nyti.ms actually a t.co link if you click on it. (Of course, the website tweets are shown in the extra-ugly “New Twitter” that I fought to avoid for months.)
NYT obit: CCNY prof Daniel McCracken (1930-2011), who wrote best-selling Fortran and Cobol texts nyti.ms/rjixBb (I owned both)
TechCrunch said that this week would include a test of the new service, but this appears to be no longer a test.
As is common for Web 2.0 companies that use indirect monetization (NB: Google, Facebook), Twitter is being disingenuous as to their reasons for eliminating the customer choice and control over URL links. It’s not about saving 2 characters, and it’s really not about URL security. (The fact that they can remap a URL into a t.co and back shows that they can automatically detect what URL is being linked).
After Twitter announced its plans a year ago, Alistair Croll summarized the real reasons in a posting on the O’Reilly site:
Twitter has been open with its data from the start, and widely available APIs have created a huge variety of applications and fast adoption. But by making their platform so open, Twitter has fewer options for monetization.In other words, Twitter wants to control all the web analytics for URLs sent via its service, as a way to increase it monetization to support its planned IPO.
The one thing they can do that nobody else can -- because they're the message bus -- is to rewrite tweets in transit. That includes hashtags and URLs. Twitter could turn #coffee into #starbucks. They could replace a big URL with a short one. And that gives them tremendous power.
Twitter recently announced a new feature that makes this a reality. The t.co URL shortener -- similar to those from bit.ly, awe.sm, and tinyURL -- might seem like a relatively small addition to the company's offering. But it's a massive power shift in the world of analytics because now Twitter can measure engagement wherever it happens, across any browser or app. And unlike other URL shorteners, Twitter can force everyone to use their service simply because they control the platform. Your URLs can be shortened (and their engagement tracked by Twitter) whether you like it or not.
Is there some reason why Twitter can’t just admit to this in an honest way, rather than wrap it in a rhetoric of psuedo-customer concern? Is there a shortage of honesty among Web 2.0 companies? (NB: Facebook, Google, etc.)
People know that free services have to be paid for somehow. Unlike Lt. Kaffee, I can handle the truth and I imagine most customers can too.