People love URL shorteners. They are everywhere. You can use one of the giants, or use one of the URL Shortening As A Service options available or you can run one on your own.

But none of that matters. Apart from adding to the redirect hell prevalent on the web today and giving you a minor branding push, custom URL shorteners does not add anything.

People started using these shortening services because of two reasons. The first reason was the necessity to share ugly URLs like http://example.com/reports.php?start=2001&end=2010&item=Foo%20bar and they wanted to make it easier on the eyes of people. The second reason was the limit on the number of characters allowed in a post by micro blogging services like Twitter and Identi.ca.

Once they became popular, people started using it everywhere, even in places like Facebook posts where there were no limit on the number of characters in a post or comment. People also started shortening URLs that were not particularly ugly.

And then, the social networks got on the game and from that point, every single URL shared on those social networks had to go through one more extra redirect. Some had predicted this redirect hell long ago.

While the social networks were setting up their own analytics service around the URLs their users shared on them, content creators started using their own custom URL shorteners. The BBC uses bbc.in, the Guardian uses gu.com and Business Insider uses read.bi. And it is not just big players in the content space that uses URL shorteners, this is prevalent among blogs too. For example, The Arabist uses arb.st, which is in turn hosted by bit.ly.

But once Twitter, Facebook and Google+ came to the table and decided to take their pound of meat from the redirect hell, all this custom URL shortening became pointless. These social networks do not expose any data about the shared URL. In Twitter’s case for example, all you as a website know is that some traffic came to a particular page from a URL that looks like t.co/Foobar. If you want to make more sense of the who, when and how aspects of your content being shared on Twitter, you have to ask Twitter.

Even the fact that those shortened URLs are short are does not serve much purpose because Twitter automatically wrap a t.co URL around anything you post to it and show the a link with the original URL as the text.

So content creators, please stop running your own URL shortening services and contributing to the redirect hell. The web will be a better place for it.

If you have questions or comments about this blog post, you can get in touch with me on Twitter @sdqali.