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When size matters

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I bet you’ve come across the problem of broken web addresses in emails. It’s mostly due to the unwieldy length of some web addresses. There is a solution…

When size matters

Brendan Lewis

URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator. Not very pretty is it?

Consequently most people refer to URLs as web addresses, such as www.churchillclub.org.au. Now the Churchill Club’s web address is fairly easy to remember and fairly easy to cut and paste into an email to send to someone.

But sometimes we are faced with much longer addresses that are very hard to remember, and what’s worse when we send them by email, sometimes they get broken in half and the link doesn’t work very well. If you haven’t experienced this problem, I would be very surprised.

Now a couple of weeks ago, I wrote the top story about high-tech spying bosses. I was pretty chuffed by this story as it got picked up by Newscorp, so I thought I would email it to my mother-in-law. My mother in-law is a woman who doesn’t really understand what I do, or why her daughter married me, nor does she particularly understand computers. But she does want to be involved and is enthusiastic.

Anyway, about two hours after sending her an email, she rings and lets me know that the link I sent her doesn’t work. Knowing from experience that Microsoft Outlook tends to break web addresses that are over 76 characters, I then guide my mother-in-law over the phone to the story.

The problem with this solution is that she doesn’t actually know what a web browser is. She knew what Internet Explorer was, but didn’t realise that it was also called a web browser. And to her Outlook is the “email thingy”. So we tend to have a conversation that uses very vague language (and from my point of view quite frustrating). Eventually I guided her to the article.

There is an alternative to this struggle though.

Now wouldn’t it be good if I could make this long address much shorter, in fact if I could create a tiny shortcut to the address. Enter TinyURL. TinyURL is a free website that creates small, free “referral” addresses. There is no account setup, no fees and it is quick and simple to use. You simply paste in the long address, push the button and out pops the short address, or tiny URL.

When I enter the URL for this story (https://www.smartcompany.com.au/Premium-Articles/Top-Story/The-high-tech-spying-boss.html, at 89 characters), TinyURL spits out a new address at 25 characters (it being http://tinyurl.com/2c9vjw).

The way TinyURL works is it creates what’s called a redirection page at the address it gives you. Effectively when your web browser requests the page at http://tinyurl.com/2c9vjw, it will be told by the web server “no, you actually want the page at SmartCompany, here’s the address…”. This redirection page appears to last indefinitely.

This is really useful, especially when dealing with websites that use Lotus Domino as the web server, which many automotive and international corporates do. Domino automatically uses ridiculously long file names that make its life easy, not ours. Pages routinely have names such as “082d6eb72342ebb6ca256488003c019a/a9cb9ad73d306e614a2565280017a6fc?OpenDocument” – almost impossible to memorise and almost certain to get broken by email clients such as Outlook.

Now the techos among us may say “well don’t use Outlook”, but the reality is even if you chose another email client such as Eudora, you can’t control the email program your clients are using.

TinyURL solves the problem. So why do they do it if it’s free? One reason is that it’s a good service and advertising for Gilby Productions, the owner. Another reason is that they earn revenue from Google Ads and have had over 50 million people go there to register URLs.

All is not smooth sailing though. There is an interesting discussion on Wikipedia about TinyURL and how it is abused. It appears that MySpace banned use of tiny URLs last year as many people were using them not to shorten an address, but to hide a link for more nefarious purposes such as linking to porn or viruses.

But if you’re just sending a long address to a customer, or elderly relative, what a great solution.

 

Brendan Lewis is the founder of two IT service firms, Edion and Verve IT, and executive director of the Churchill Club.

To read more Brendan Lewis blogs, click here.

 

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