Tr.im and The Short URL Conundrum

I had been writing a post about how my new favorite URL shortener, Tr.im, was shutting down and stranding all my precious links when just this evening they apparently decided to keep the service running. I should be happy about this but I still feel weird about the whole thing. So in place of the original boohoo post about Tr.im, I'm going to think out loud about the URL shortener business/ecosystem for a bit.

I've been thinking for awhile that Google should play a role in this URL shortener ecosystem. They're big enough not to go away and they maintain such a central role in the web anyway I think they'd be a good default choice. But they've shown no interest in getting into the shortener business as a competitor to Tr.im, Bit.ly, and the rest so I was thinking they should take the role of a shortener warehouse. If a service like Tr.im goes away, they transfer the list of links and short codes to Google and the URLs keep working at a minimum. Apparently Bit.ly is trying to get something like this going but I have a feeling since they're in the business, their competitors aren't going to sign on. And I fear Tr.im has helped sow some amount of distaste for Bit.ly with their blog posts about Bit.ly's favored status with Twitter so that isn't going to help.

But narrowing this down to Tr.im, I'm trying to decide if I should start using them again. I like them much more than Bit.ly, but this incident hasn't helped them at all. They said originally they couldn't make a business out of Tr.im if Twitter was going to explicitly favor Bit.ly. This is obviously still true. They're not on firmer ground now than before, they've just made a bunch of noise. The tempest-in-a-Twitter they caused with their frankly somewhat offensively curt shutdown messages may end up causing Twitter to rethink their One URL Shortener To Rule Them All stance but if the favoritism really comes from their VCs and board members personal connections, I doubt it. They have to know if they starve out Tr.im and the rest, people will grumble but in the end we'll all move on.

According to some stats I saw, Tr.im was a minuscule percentage of the number of links on Twitter. I think the brouhaha about Tr.im shutting down was really a reaction to the realization that one of these services could just evaporate almost overnight. And that isn't going to help them survive but it may kick some kind of warehousing service like I mentioned above into gear. They may have been tricked by feelings of importance when really they were just the canary in the mine, in the end serving only as a warning to everybody else.

So Tr.im hasn't been saved by this, the creators just caved and the service will limp along not making money like it wasn't doing before. And on top of this, their willingness just to shutter the service with very little notice doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Until people start hearing news about money coming into the service or of a buyer swooping in where one hadn't been willing to swoop before, users like me are going to switch if just to minimize the number of links a shutdown would endanger. They may have just doomed themselves to a more public death later with this resurrection.