Resilience Fail (updated)
Quick question: where does this URL go to?
How about this one?
Would you have guessed that the first goes to a Computerworld article about business-appropriate avatars, and the second goes to the previous post on Open the Future?
The use of URL-shortening services is a classic example of short-term need trumping long-term resilience. Shortened URLs:
That is, URL-shorteners violate three key principles of resilient design: they offer no transparency, no redundancy, and no decentralization. They're classic single-points of failure.
As a result, shortened URLs have little or no reference or archival value. A dead short URL is far worse than a dead standard URL, in fact, because (a) you have no way of getting contextual meaning, and (b) you can't even go look up the address on the Internet Archive. This is a real problem for those of us who think of the Internet as a tool for building knowledge. For better or for worse, services such as Twitter have gone from being ephemeral conversation media to being used as tools of collaborative awareness about the world. We can no longer assume that a link in a short message is of only transient value.
Yet many of us (including me) rely heavily on shorteners when using URLs "conversationally," such as on Twitter or in an instant message chat. They take far fewer characters than a typical URL; in length-limited media such as Twitter, that's a critical advantage.
So, in the immortal phrase, what is to be done?
Given that the need for URL shortening will remain as long as we use character-limit media such as Twitter or SMS, I can think of a few steps that would help to return some of the information resilience to the system:
Any of these would be an enormous step forward, and the combination would make for a much more resilient system. Admittedly, all of these steps require a bit of coding work, and aren't going to be implemented overnight. However, nobody said resilience was easy -- just necessary.