This weekend I was doing my usual tweeting through my MarketMeSuite dashboard when suddenly I saw that a link I had decidedly shortened with bit.ly came back in "my tweets" as a t.co. I looked at the calendar and thought surely something must be amiss. Twitter announced last week that on the 15th they would begin rewrapping all links over 19 characters (which nearly all bit.ly links are). So why was this released 2 days early?
It turns out that Twitter decided that they needed to send "canaries to the coal mine" to test behavior before being more wildly released on monday. This of course, left 3rd party app users with questions. "Why is this showing up as a t.co?" This sort of date changing still speaks to the fact that Twitter is still having problems settling in with the ecosystem they allowed to spring up around them, which is likely a topic for another article, but there is a more important topic to cover.
Bit.ly may have been given advanced notice of the 'shortapocalypse' coming. Earlier this summer they announced bit.ly pro features, including vanity urls, are now free to all users. Surely having everything returned back as a t.co. link will kill any need for 'vanity shortening' on Twitter...
Interestingly, though, on Twitter.com the links are still returned unwrapped. And when you hover over the link it shows the source link. I did some more testing to find that if you wrap more than once, it does not go down as deep as the source link. In other words, it only goes one level down... for now.
Alan Hamlyn, CTO of MarketMeSuite, has some concerns about the processing power of this new endeavor for Twitter, who already suffers a heavy load on their servers. "I wonder what the cost of Unwrapping, 5, 10, 20 or more redirected URL's is on an already unstable system with persistent unscheduled down time. Or is it a case of Twitter is willing to pay any price to control URL's on their system and perhaps cull spam."
Alan brings up an interesting point. This could do well to help cull spam. For example, well known site hacking automation site "TweetAdder" has been blocked by Twitter.
And while it's good that Twitter can exert more control over spammy sites, it's still another level of control. And of course more effort for the company. Is this going to be a case of people reporting their neighbors for having spammy content, and Twitter having some kind of a disapproval process to get potentially spammy links off the site? Surely it's good for phishing sites and sites likely to give you a virus, but where does Twitter draw the line? With this new system they can seemingly block any site, for any reason, so I'd personally like to read a statement from Twitter with some clarity on which sites they will block from their system entirely and the exact criteria used to determine this.
The other reason for such a complete roll out of t.co to cover just about every link could be tied into the new sponsored tweet program. Sponsors pay a pretty penny to advertise on Twitter, and with t.co they will be able to track exactly what kind of bang they get for their buck.
In my endless testing this weekend, I was able to create a scenario whereby I got a 152 character tweet to appear on twitter.com. This was done by taking a t.co link that was shortened, pasting it into my tweet box and sending it out. Twitter.com will automatically unwrap any link one level, so it unwrapped the entire link, making this tweet show as 152 characters.
Tweets much longer than that get truncated with a "..." but, for now, if you want to get a little bit of glee from seeing a tweet over the coveted 140 character limit we've all come to accept as the norm, go for it.
Don't mourn the loss of your favorite shorteners too much. Most people are looking to cross post these days, to Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and even Google Plus. Link shorteners still work beautifully on all the other services and will continue to do so for a good long while. However, link shorteners will have to offer more than simple vanity links to keep up. A company like bit.ly, with widespread use and rich analytics should manage to survive this Twitter shortapocalypse mostly unharmed.
Has Twitter made a good move? Or is this just a necessary evil to keep the company on the road to profit? One thing you have to admit about Twitter... they always keep us on our toes!