TinyURL’s Outage: Conspiracy Theories

Last night I pooh poohed a Slashdot article talking about the frailty caused by relying on TinyURL.

Less than 12 hours after I wrote my post, TinyURL.com started returning 404 errors prompting real concern from netizens.

Steve Rubel wrote, “The thought of an evaporating TinyURL…is all more than a little bit frightening, yet fascinating.” Marshall Kirkpatrick wrote about the dangers of using TinyURL and then jokingly harassed people on twitter who used TinyURL.

Everyone is missing the boat on this story. Less than 24 hours after a Slashdot article raising the alarm, the service that has been reliable for years goes down? Sounds like conspiracy to me.

Could it be that someone felt it necessary to prove a point about the dangers of TinyURL by taking the service to its knees? Or has the most unprobable outcome occurred and the long forgotten Slashdot effect finally returned? :-)

True Impact of TinyURL

Slashdot today has an article asking the question, “Do Tiny URL Services Weaken Net Architecture?” The argument in the Slashdot article is pretty hilarious (Short version: TinyURL goes down and the Internet crashes). Instead of chicken-little scenarios, let’s talk about the one significant way that the growth in TinyURL-like services is changing marketing.

Shorten url services are all the rage these days. The key factors in their popularity are the increase in mobile devices, especially text messaging services, and emerging technology like Twitter and Pownce. When people use these systems, a premium is placed on short messages. Shortening a url to save characters becomes a necessity.

The impact of use of TinyURL-like services is that it becomes much more difficult to track the conversation surrounding your company or product. Savvy marketers today have multiple searches set up to scour the web looking for urls that point to their web sites. However, when people use TinyURL and other services, links to your web site are impossible to detect because the TinyURL is random.

This makes it more critical than every to watch incoming referring urls to find Twitter references and other places linking to your site. My testing shows that the referring url will show up correctly in web analytics despite the use of TinyURL.