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10/16/2009
04:44 PM
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The Custom URL Shortener

My first thought when I saw that the federal government had created its own URL shortener was: what a waste of time and effort. The more I think about it, the more I wonder why other large organizations with popular Websites haven't done this for their links.

My first thought when I saw that the federal government had created its own URL shortener was: what a waste of time and effort. The more I think about it, the more I wonder why other large organizations with popular Websites haven't done this for their links.Last month, USA.gov started using new short URLs for its Twitter account, with links pointing to go.usa.gov. Now, it's urging all federal government agencies to come on board. Any government employee can sign up to use the service, which will (currently) shorten any U.S. government Website down to 14 characters. Go.USA.gov is in beta now, but General Services Administration director of online resources and interagency development Bev Godwin expects the service to come out of beta by the end of the year.

So why should the government develop its own URL shortener, when there are others out there?

The first reason -- and this is where I see potential value to others -- is about the government brand. When government links are shortened to bit.ly or tiny.cc, nobody knows where the site goes until they click on it. With go.usa.gov, even though the URL is shortened, it's obvious that the link goes to a United States government Website. Other companies and organizations could do the same thing.

Stability was another reason the GSA decided to do this internally. Earlier this year, URL shortener Cligs was hacked, and Tr.im temporarily shut down, taking all its links with it. The government, with its visibility and archiving requirement, can't have that, and organizations that use URL shorteners shouldn't stand for it either.

By developing an internal URL shortner, the GSA also got the ability to manage all its shortened URLs centrally, managing its own user accounts and gathering metrics on what is popular and what isn't rather than the guessing game used when links are spread out over a number of URL shorteners.

Lastly, the effort hasn't really wasted any money. To develop the service, GSA borrowed a developer from the Department of Veterans Affairs, who developed a new open source module in Drupal to shorten URLs, and contributed that code back to the Drupal community. The service runs in GSA's the Terremark-hosted USA.gov cloud, so GSA didn't have to stand up new servers or bother with a new hostname.

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