If you had to think of all the adjectives that describe the web, there’s a good chance that ‘efficient‘ would be one of them. After all, few tools offer the ability to find information so easily and effectively.

But behind the scenes, the web may be getting less efficient in one area: getting you from point A to point B. That’s because of the proliferation of redirects being put into use by some of the internet’s most prominent services.

Royal Pingdom provides several examples:

  • Every time you click on a search result in Google or Bing there’s an
    intermediate step via Google’s servers (or Bing’s) before you’re redirected to
    the real target site.
  • Every time you click on a Feedburner RSS headline you’re also redirected
    before arriving at the real target.
  • Every time you click on an outgoing link in Facebook, there’s an inbetween
    step via a Facebook server before you’re redirected to where you want to go.

The net result: “redirect hell.” Which is problematic for a number of reasons. A big one: getting from point A to point B can be much slower when point B becomes point D. And more points between you and your destination represent multiple points of failure. Eventually, one of those points will fail.

Of course, today’s redirect hell is a by product of the ever-increasing value of analytics and user data. As Royal Pingdom notes, “Google, Facebook and other online companies like to keep track of clicks and how
their users behave. Knowledge is a true resource for these companies. It can
help them improve their service, it can help them monetize the service more
efficiently, and in many cases the actual data itself is worth money.

Fair enough, right? Perhaps not. While there is no doubt that this data has some value, let’s be honest: how many businesses and organizations are actually making good use of the data they’re collecting from redirects? Even in cases where the data isn’t going into a black hole, never to be seen again, the vast majority of the time, a lot of this data is sort of like the broken antique lamp you refuse to throw out: you don’t use it, you know it’s not worth that much, but you keep it anyway because you think it might be worth something, someday.

Certainly, companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter can extract some value from click data. But given the volume of this data collected, it’s unlikely that they’re going to do much with it in the absence of a significant economic incentive. That incentive is more likely to exist with Google, for instance, than Facebook and Twitter, yet both of these companies are just as interested in ‘collecting clicks‘ like they’re going out of style. For publishers, redirect services aren’t generally necessary. It’s entirely possible, for example, to gain detailed information about where visitors are coming from without relying on a URL shortener or some other intermediary service.

At some point, there will be a broader discussion about redirect hell. It’s only a matter of time before there’s a major breakdown of a prominent redirect service and the impact is too big to go unnoticed (my money is on Twitter here). But even so, it’s unclear whether or not sanity and sensibility will prevail. Not all data is important, but because data is so cheap to keep, it’s unlikely that the bad habit of collecting and storing as much as physically possible is going away any time soon.

Photo credit: @boetter via Flickr.