URL shorteners suck less, thanks to the Internet Archive and 301Works

URL shorteners like bit.ly present some profound problems for the health of the web: for one thing, they might vanish if they company that provides them goes bust (for some other things: it exposes your internet browsing to surveillance by random URL-shortening companies; it exposes you to malware and phishing attacks, and so on).

The first problem -- URLs can vanish -- looks like it may be solved soon. Many URL shortening companies are escrowing their databases of shortened URLs with the Internet Archive, an honorable, established nonprofit. If the companies go bust, their URLs will be redirected to the Archive and thus persist.

The non-profit Internet Archive, a digital library with extensive text, audio, video and web collections, will administer 301Works.org as a project of the Internet Archive. "Short URL providers have in the space of eighteen months become a corner stone of the real time web -- 301Works.org was conceived to provide redundancy so that users and services could resolve a URL mapping regardless of availability. The Internet Archive is a perfect host organization to run and manage this for all providers," says Bit.ly CEO John Borthwick. "The Internet Archive is honored to play this role to help make the Web more robust," added Brewster Kahle, founder and Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive.

All participating companies are members of the 301Works.org Working Group, a technical and policy discussion group, but the Internet Archive will manage the over all initiative in a fashion consistent with its charter as a non-profit organization, and supporting the interests of the greater community ahead of those of the participating companies.

Participating companies will provide regular backups of their URL mappings to the 301Works.org service. In the event of the closure of a participating organization, technical control of the shortening service domain will be transferred to 301Works.org in order to continue redirecting existing shortened URLs to their intended destinations.

URL shorteners working with Internet Archive for long-term preservation (via Kottke)


  1. This is sweet.

    So nice to see the internet’s ad-hocery reduced without sacrificing its amenity to the the blood-sucking corporations.

  2. Sadly, for all the reasons Cory pointed out, bit.ly et al still suck hard. In my experience it’s mostly used by pranksters (for Rick Rolling or whatever, not that anyone has actually *Rick Rolled* me in an internet forever) or by twitterites who’ve locked themselves into a character starved medium with eyes wide open. For that second group, it’s really twitter.com who should be providing that URL aliasing service. Twits have already made their bed and committed to mediating and storing their conversations on twitter so the company-goes-bust scenario is something they already have to face for the rest of their twitteratoria.

    1. Well, yes, no matter how many redundant backups there are you can always ask, “But what if all of them go bust?” Now, if the databases of aliases and URLs were made public on a regular basis, then many independent parties could retrieve it whenever they wanted, making it more likely to survive in the long term.

  3. URL shorteners are stupid because it’s twitter and the like with their arbitrary character limits that prompted these things. This is a artificial problem.

    1. Coaxial, this is simply not true – url shorteners are 5 years older than twitter.

      And frankly: Get over it, people. It’s not like every goddam link needs to archived for all eternity. Doesn’t boing boing even wipe their comment boards after a while?

      It’s quite absurd – people who don’t reveal their real name ( I see little difference between “anonymous” and “coxial” ) get fussed up because an incomprehensible link in a minor blog comment by some “badassdude” might not work in a couple of years. Ridiculous.

      1. what you say does not change the fact its like me passing a note to a friend of yours to give to you.. where as I can confirm everything works if I just handed the damn note to you.

        and yes, long before twitter url shorteners were seen as handy by people who wanted to write by hand the corporate web addresses that ended up looking like machine code but you know what? that doesn’t change the fact that twitter used a retarded hack to create a phenomenon and should address the url prob with their ‘great invention’

        side note: any company with too long an address is just loosing traffic – most realize that now.

        1. @side note: any company with too long an address is just loosing traffic – most realize that now.

          hmm, rly doubt it, how often does anyone type url’s in vs clicking on a link on a page / feed / tweet or whatever, or from a page of search results? at that level address length doesn’t matter.

  4. Why wouldn’t the Internet Archive just launch its own non-profit URL shortener, which would solve the problem more directly and more in line with “supporting the interests of the greater community”?

  5. Cory – I call bullshit here.

    You write, suggesting a specific problem with URL shorteners:

    “it exposes your internet browsing to surveillance by random URL-shortening companies”

    how is this different from the browsing surveillance I am subject to from Quantcast, Federated, interClick and Doubleclick – all of whom have put cookies on my machine just by me visiting this site??

    1. at least cookies are spying by the person with whom you visited (mostly). once again it’s all about involving a 3rd party

      aside from that..

      Cory said he loves cookies, wait.. wut? lol

  6. @albert12, why multiply the number of snooping parties unnecessarily? Unless you *like* being surveilled by “Quantcast, Federated, interClick and Doubleclick” then it should be obvious that one more company watching over your shoulder is to be counted among the minuses.

    By the way, did you know that with proper browser configuration you can refuse cookies from those parties?

  7. Actually, the only URLshortener that truly sucks is v3 – after several years of being semi-cool, albeit ad-bloated, it now appears to be a cash-generating scam.

    Beam.to is worth mentioning as a great service. Been using them for seven, eight years, never a challenge. Smart folks behind beam.to

    Any others worth mentioning here? We’re listening :-)

  8. Agree with this being an artificial problem. I never understood why a simple href isn’t good enough for shortening URLs.

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