Earlier this week, URL shortener tr.im shut down. Then they reopened after what they’re calling an outpouring of support from users. Sort of. Is this the service you should trust your redirection to?
Using a URL shortening service is a popular way to hide a destination, save space in a Twitter or Identi.ca message, and cloak affiliate links. It’s that last point that I want to touch on here. Affiliates should take notice of what happened with tr.im earlier this week and learn a valuable lesson.
Don’t ever trust a URL shortening service to cloak your affiliate links.
On Monday, tr.im shut down with the following announcement:
Regretfully, we here at Nambu have decided to shutdown tr.im, the first step in shutting down all of our products and services within that brand.
The owners made the announcement that tr.im would redirect links until the end of the year and that the Twitter client Nambu, one of their “products and services” referenced above, would cease development. I was a Nambu user, and by extension, a tr.im user (as tr.im is the default shortener in Nambu, a point that will demonstrate a double-standard in just a moment).
Eric Woodward replied to comments on the few blog entries made at tr.im and repeated the same lines that were used on the blog. Twitter favors bit.ly. Twitter is making it impossible for other URL shorteners to survive. The people behind bit.ly have a relationship with the folks at Twitter and it’s that insider, buddy-buddy relationship (not, as he implies, the quality of bit.ly) that makes tr.im unable to compete.
Woodward went on to say that nobody was interested in buying tr.im, even for “a token amount of money”. This will be seen as ironic shortly.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
Here is a service that has been around for about 12 months, that has shortened thousands of links, that decided to close up shop because Twitter didn’t make them the default URL shortener for users of the Twitter web interface. Now, I won’t go into the comments that I made in the various blog posts here and here, but suffice to say, I think this is flawed thinking. They based their business model on a company that itself has no business model. They complained that bit.ly was crowned the default URL shortener on the Twitter website, yet they made tr.im the default URL shortener in the Nambu Twitter client. They don’t see the double-standard. More importantly, they refuse to acknowledge that the only way to make a mark with a shortener now is to look beyond Twitter.
Woodward has gone on to say that tr.im has no interest in frames, advertising or, it seems, any other kind of monetization. It was stated that nobody was interested in buying tr.im. Well, of course not! It’s not a large service, it’s not making any money, and the owners can’t seem to understand why nobody wants it! That might be a little disingenuous. There were some offers made, and they were all turned down, ostensibly because the owners don’t want anyone to use the service to spam people with frames and advertisements.
Parse that again. The owners aren’t making any money, and they refuse to sell the service to anyone else if the intention is to make money with the service. They were, it seems, simply waiting for something to come along and buy them out. That was never going to happen, but after reading the whiny blog posts (Twitter isn’t playing fair! Whaaa!) it’s no surprise that they never understood that.
Am I being harsh? Probably, yes. The way that users of tr.im and Nambu were treated this week was pathetic. I was one of those users. I’m insulted!
Affiliates, this is a wake-up call. If you’re cloaking links on your sites, find another way to do it. Any of these URL shortening services could go away tomorrow – and what will you do? Spend a week or two rewriting thousands of links? If your affiliate efforts are blog-based, as mine are on this site, consider .htaccess redirects. They’re simple to use and make swapping out merchants a snap. PHP redirects are useful, too. Either way, you have control over your traffic and you’re not at the mercy of a third party URL shortener.
Ow.ly, bit.ly, TinyURL, su.pr, twitpwr.com… do you really want to be handing over your traffic to sites that may or may not be around next year?
Whatever you do, stop using tr.im. It probably won’t last much longer with the owners running the service like this.