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Web person at the Imperial War Museum, just completed PhD about digital sustainability in museums (the original motivation for this blog was as my research diary). Posting occasionally, and usually museum tech stuff but prone to stray. I welcome comments if you want to take anything further. These are my opinions and should not be attributed to my employer or anyone else (unless they thought of them too). Twitter: @jottevanger

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Internet Archive and the URL shortener question

There's been a bit of chat lately about the risks of URL shorteners, prompted I think partly by the arrival of Google's goo.gl service. The Guardian covers the basic argument here but it's the obvious thing: what happens to all the short links that get circulated if a link shortener goes tits-up? (The Guardian quotes from Joshua Schachter's bloggage of last year, which has a lot more detail to think about.)

So ealier this week @tmtn tweeted from the Royal Society
"Penny-drop moment. If bit.ly goes belly up, all the links we've used it for, break."
and there followed a little exchange about what might be done to help - the conclusion being, I think, not a lot. For your own benefit you might export a list of your links as HTML or OPML (as you can from Delicious, which does link shortening now), but for whoever else has your links there's no help.

But it got me thinking about how the Internet Archive might fit in. Schachter mentions archiving the databases of link shortening services, and here's one home for them that really could help. Wouldn't it be cool if your favourite URL shortener hooked up with them so that every link they shortened was pushed into the IA index? It could be done live or after a few weeks delay, if necessary. The IA could then offer a permified version of the short URL, along the lines of
http://www.archive.org/surl/*/http://bit.ly/aujkzd [non-functioning entirely mythical link]
Knowing just the short URL it will be easy to find the original target URL (if it still exists!) There's also a nice bit of added value: the Wayback Machine, one of the Internet Archive's greatest pieces of self-preservation, snapshots sites periodically and the short links (being, hopefully, timestamped) could be tied to these snapshots, so that you could skip to how a page looked when the short link was minted. They might even find that the submission of short links was a guide to popularity they could use in selecting pages to archive.

OK, so the Internet Archive itself maybe isn't forever, but it's been around a while and looks good for a while longer, it's trusted, and it's neutral. Perhaps Bitly, Google, tr.im, TinyURL and all the rest might think about working with the IA so we can all feel a little more sanguine about the short links we're constantly churning out? It would certainly make me choose one provider over another, which is the sort of competitive differentiator they might take note of.


George Oates said...

Wondering if you've seen the first step towards an archive of shortened URLs at http://301works.org. Not much to see there yet, but the Internet Archive has begun collecting URL mappings.

Jeremy said...

Hi George. Wow, no I hadn't seen 301works.org and obviously I should have done - that's a big doh! on my part. It's exactly what I was after in pretty much all the details so all I can say is, that's fantastic news. I'm happy to see bit.ly in there as a member - it's the only big name I spotted but it's the one I use, and now I can do so with greater confidence.
Time to spread the word, I think.

George Oates said...

Please do! It's still a pretty new system, but the Archive certainly recognizes the issue, and is starting to archive things. Feel free to direct any URL shortening services there too.