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As Twitter makes the transition from profitless startup to revenue-generating business, the massive number of links that are shared on its service on a daily basis represent valuable currency. Given this, Twitter naturally wants to exert more control of those links.

This summer, it will do just that when it finally rolls out its own link shortening service that wraps all links shared through Twitter.com and third party clients using the company's t.co shortener.

For users, tweeting long links via the Twitter website will become less painful, as URLs can be shortened from within the tweet box. And because Twitter will be able to track links to a much greater extent than it can now, it says that it will be able to blacklist links that are reported as being abusive.

But the real beneficiary of Twitter's move is, of course, Twitter. By making sure that all links shared on Twitter go through its shortener, Twitter will be able to gather an enormous amount of data that it hopes will be of significant commercial value. To its credit, Twitter is up front about this:

In addition to a better user experience and increased safety, routing links through this service will eventually contribute to the metrics behind our Promoted Tweets platform and provide an important quality signal for our Resonance algorithm—the way we determine if a Tweet is relevant and interesting to users. We are also looking to provide services that make use of this data, an example would be analytics within our eventual commercial accounts service.

While it's understandable that Twitter wants to control links, there are a few potential problems:

  • Performance. Any service that redirects links reduces the speed at which users can get to their intended destination, even if only by a small fraction of a second. Given that there are probably a significant number of Twitter users who won't shell out for a commercial account but who find existing shortening services like Bit.ly to be the easiest way to keep track of metrics such as clicks, we might see a substantial number of links that go through two shorteners, which is hardly ideal for performance.

    Finally, Twitter's track record when it comes to performance isn't the best in the world. If the fail whale invades t.co, watch out.

  • Reliability. Routing every link shared on Twitter through a single shortening service obviously creates a single point of failure. And if there's ever a data loss related to the shortening service, affected links could be rendered entirely useless.
  • Privacy. With its control of links, Twitter will be able to collect a lot of data about users, and some of that data will raise privacy implications that for the most part don't currently exist. While Twitter certainly won't be competing with Facebook anytime soon for the dubious title of 'Biggest Online Privacy Target', Twitter should not dismiss the possibility that it too could come under scrutiny in this arena.
  • SEO. Conceivably, Twitter could make it more difficult for search engines to follow links shared on Twitter. While it's hard to imagine Twitter blocking search engines, it could use its ability to do so as a means to protect the data deals it currently has in place with some of them, or to encourage search engines that aren't paying customers to pay up.

By trying to seize control of links, Twitter is arguably making its biggest consumer-facing change. It will be interesting to see if it can pull it off with less fanfare than some of the other major players in the social networking space.

Photo credit: JoshSemans via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 9 June, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2407 more posts from this author

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Andrew

SEO? Aren't links on Twitter set to 'nofollow' negating link benefits (besides actually getting a human visitor to the site) anyway?

over 6 years ago

Edward Cowell

Edward Cowell, SEO Director at Guava UK

The fundamental flaw with URL shortners is that they obsfucate the actual destination from the user.

We see it a lot when monitoring brand coverage on twitter..often you'll get what looks like loads of brand discussion, which should be a positive metric.  In reality when you dig deeper and verify the destination URLs, you'll see that the apparent good brand coverage is saturated with loads of low level phishing tweets using obsfucated shortened URLs, so if anything is seriously detrimental to the brand.

If twitter has its own shortening service, and it becomes the default, I would speculate that it will help them in improving their spam filtering, which would be a very good thing.

over 6 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Andrew,

'nofollow' is simply a disclaimer of sorts for search engines. Search engines are not obligated to obey it. While I think it's safe to say that they generally do, Twitter is of course a different beast and there is little doubt that the search engines have an interest in the links that are being shared.

Edward,

Spam filtering is a double-edged sword. Obviously, it won't be 100% perfect, and there will always be false negatives.

There's also the ironic possibility that spam filters will significantly eat into Twitter's impressive numbers. After all, it would seem that on certain areas of the service at least, quite a large percentage of tweets are 'spam'. :)

over 6 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

By the way, Twitter is "over capacity" right now.

over 6 years ago

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Rhonda Hess

Not excited about this change. While I do use shortened links sometimes, most of the time I like to use a link that's a customized domain for the purpose of branding and awareness. I've always been annoyed by the auto--shortening of sn sites.

over 6 years ago

Edward Cowell

Edward Cowell, SEO Director at Guava UK

Patricio - I agree about the irony, but I guess it's going to be a choice of quality over quantity, in this case I know which I'd prefer :-) Additionally if twitter and potentially other social sites are to become useful data sources for feeding into other algometric ranking systems (in order to improve relevency and help SEO), the very first task will be to significantly reduce the signal to noise ratio and get rid of as much spam as possible, so this is probably an inevitable first step in that process. If they can reduce the signal to noise ratio to a level that becomes useful to the main engines, and can also take ownership of the majority of traffic routing via their own shortner thus gaining access to additional high value clickthrough and user metrics then potentially they also make themselves a much better contender for acquisition.

over 6 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Edward,

Don't disagree with anything you've said. Will be interesting, of course, to see how this plays out given how 'open' and 'free' Twitter has been up to this point. While I'm not predicting a mass exodus or uprising, there are some really fundamental changes being made that alter the nature of the service.

Of course, Twitter's problems today once again highlight the biggest challenge the company faces: building a stable platform. All of these other issues will be moot points if Twitter doesn't have the technology to execute on its plans.

over 6 years ago

John Courtney

John Courtney, CEO and Executive Chairman at Pay on Results SEO, Content Marketing, Social Media, Digital PR, PPC & CRO from Strategy Digital

Am I alone in smelling something here? Controlling the links...protecting their deals...

over 6 years ago

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Laura Jennings

Does this mean that Twitter is sacrificing some of it's quality for more control over its content? I'm a bit of a Twitter newbie and am interesting in how this change would impact using social media as a marketing tool.

over 6 years ago

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