URL shorteners are web services that let you shorten URLs by removing useful information from them. Without visiting the link http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/01/websites-dark-in-revolt/ you can infer that the page is a news article from the magazine Wired. A shortened URL looks like this http://tinyurl.com/6wbnhah and tells you nothing about what content is behind it.

Here’s a wonderful satire http://www.shadyurl.com/ that outputs such wonderful short URLs as http://5z8.info/malicious-cookie_d5d2_hateminorities

Popular URL shorteners include tinyurl.com and bit.ly. I wrote to Bitly to ask them how long I can trust their service to last:

Hello Bitly! I’m excited to tell you I just made my first bitly links :) They redirect to some news stories on the BBC’s website published in 1997 and 1998:

Certainly the bitly links are snappy. But I must ask, how long will they last? The BBC have maintained those new stories at those exact URLs for fourteen years. I trust them to maintain their content for at least another fourteen years. Will my bitly links still redirect in 2025?

Of course I don’t expect bitly to work forever (the sun will eventually swallow the Earth, I hear). So what are your expectations? Do you make any commitments to survive to certain dates?

Here are some long-lived services. Will bitly live as long as any of them?

  • Google, a web search engine since 1997
  • BBC World Service, broadcasting since 1932
  • The New York Times, published since 1852
  • The United States Dollar, minted since 1792

Both Google and bitly are web services, so I think it’s fair to compete.

In particular, what happens to my bitly links were your offices to be destroyed in a fire or bitly to go bust? I read in your FAQ that you keep backups, so hopefully the service could be restored after a fire. But were bitly to go bust and the website go offline, what happens? If there were an archive in a library, people could still follow the links. Is anything like that published? Or would everything be lost?

Geocities let the content they hosted expire without concern for their users. Fortunately, some content was saved by hobby historians. Will bitly behave better?

I look forward to hearing from you :)

Here’s the reply from Rex at Bitly.

Hello Matt,

Thanks for asking, and I’ll try to keep it brief, and to the point.

Bit.ly will be good forever (or until the sun swallows the earth), with the caveat of the long url you created, in your examples below - the bbc site - keeps their url alive. Bit.ly is simply a 301 permanent redirect.

So if http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/events/clinton_under_fire/latest_news/238784.stm continues to be valid and doesn’t for example change to http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/events/clinton_under_fire/latest_news/238784.html - bit.ly will work. Also, if bbc does a redirect from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/events/clinton_under_fire/latest_news/238784.stm to http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/events/clinton_under_fire/latest_news/238784.html - it will continue to work as bit.ly will always go to the long url you created.

Yes, there are backups in place. We don’t operate our actual servers out of the office in NYC, we are cloud based.

It is unlikely we will pull a Geocities. There are other safeguards in place.

Hopefully that answers your inquiry below without getting into too much detail. Thanks for asking, and we are always encouraged by people who are enthusiastic about bit.ly as we are!

Rex

My reply

Thanks Rex for your informative reply. Good luck with the enterprise.