Status updates on Messenger, Facebook or Twitter often include web addresses. Where space is limited, it's often necessary to reduce the number of characters in the URL.
This has lead to a proliferation of URL shortening services, where you can supply the long address and swap it for something much shorter that automatically redirects to the desired location.
These services vary, and some are considerably more reliable than others. Shortened URLs can also be misused for nefarious purposes, including concealing the true identity of a phishing site, so it's important to be able to preview the site being linked to.
Some services also offer additional features. We've rounded up some of the most interesting and useful on the web.
Possibly the best known of the various URL shortening services, TinyURL has been around for some time. As well as its standard shortening service, it can also provide you with custom URLs.
So if you want a vanity URL or one that links to your domain name, you can create a URL that ends in the characters of your choice, subject to availability.
This is very handy for creating memorable short URLs that are easy to communicate, which is especially useful if you're quoting them over the phone.
Bit.ly has recently been providing stiff competition to TinyURL as one of the bestknown shortening services. As well as providing shorter addresses, Bit.ly enables you to track the popularity of your links, which can be very useful.
You can see the statistics for each of your short links if you sign up, although you can also see overall link performance whenever you enter a long URL for shortening.
If you use a link to a page that other people have linked to, you can see all instances of people accessing it as well as those you generated.
Beam.to creates shorter URLs from longer ones using its root address plus a memorable string of your choosing (subject to availability). You can also password-protect your custom URLs.
To set this up, browse to the homepage, enter your chosen redirect URL and click 'Check Now'. If it's available, you can supply the destination URL plus an email address. Your password will be sent to that address.
Now follow the link and supply the password, plus some user details, to activate it.
Good.ly turns URL shortening into a charitable affair by participating in affiliate schemes whenever possible.
When you use Good.ly's service and link to a site that has an affiliate scheme, anyone who follows the link and subsequently makes a purchase helps generate some money for charity. You can pick the charity that you want to support when you create the shortened URL.
5. Foxy URL
If you use the ubiquitous Firefox browser, you can save some time by installing the Foxy URL extension.
This handily compresses web addresses for you on the fly as you copy and paste them. You can also get full statistics for each of your links if you sign up, including the IP addresses of each of the people following them.
Keep your URL referrals diminutive the Zulu way. Ncane is a Zulu word meaning 'small'. It's a simple URL shortening service that also includes the ability to flag any links that connect to pages featuring adult content, which is useful for security reasons.
Is.gd is a very efficient address shortening service. You can make your links lead to a preview page simply by including a hyphen at the end of the shortened address. This helps visitors check out the safety and reliability of the site before actually going there.
U.nu claims to provide the very shortest addresses on the web by virtue of its single-character root name – and it's probably right.
It expresses the rest of the shortened address using alphanumeric characters, and so manages to get most URLs down to a tiny 15 characters or less. When quoting an address via Twitter or in a text message every character counts, so in these situations U.nu is a real winner.
You can process multiple addresses for shortening in one go at SnipURL as long as you sign up for an account. There are four possible prefixes to choose from, and you can produce URLs by entering multiple ones into a web form.
Alternatively, you can make use of SnipURL's innovative tool: it can take a chunk of text containing several addresses that's been copied from anywhere and convert each to a shortened URL. Impressive.
If you'd like to generate URLs with a difference, why not try DickensURL? It may not result in shorter addresses, but as each is produced from a famous Dickens quote, they will definitely be memorable.
You can generate the addresses using the web form at the homepage or by using the bookmarklet. This isn't so much a URL shortening service as a URL prettifying service that adds a little culture to your web addresses.
First published in PC Plus Issue 289
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