Tag Archives: URL shortener

Long day’s journey into bitly

…with apologies to Eugene O’Neill.

For the past two years, I have checked in from time to time with bitly and added to my posts about what I found. What started as an amusing projection — how could the URL-shortening service evolve as they began to run low on 6-character hash strings? — turned somber, morbid, even sepulchral. Most recently, I wrote in The bitly dea(r)th watch that, because of Twitter’s DIY shortener, t.co,

…it was [now] less a matter of when bitly would run out of unique hash strings and much more a matter of when the world might run out of bitly. Would the dearth become a death, not to put too fine a point on it?

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“Soooo big!” Counting on bit.ly, Part III

In the two previous posts on this topic, I calculated that, all other things being equal, the pool of 62^6 = 56,800,235,584 six-character strings from which bit.ly is currently assigning shortened URLs has a projected “exhaustion date” somewhere around the year 2030.

This inexact prediction is more than an idle curiosity because of the nascent effort of 301Works, under the aegis of the Internet Archive, to preserve re-directs even if, especially if, a URL-shortener goes belly-up or merely stops supporting already-issued links. More than 20 companies have joined 301Works, and bit.ly made this commitment on its corporate blog last November:

Bit.ly has already begun putting its short-to-long URL mappings in escrow with IA, which will run the 301works.org Working Group.

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“Soooo big!” Counting on bit.ly, Part II

In Part I, I calculated that bit.ly is currently using a pool of 62^6 = 56,800,235,584 six-character strings that it can assign as re-directs, for example, to provide URL-shortening for tweets that are up against Twitter’s 140-character limit.

After I finished the calculations in part I and below, I looked for other discussions of this topic. There may be many, but they are not easy to find, because search strings including “bit.ly” are dominated by pages in which people have given re-directs to other pages using, well, bit.ly. (Duh.) One that did rise very high on Google was Scott Herold’s post on VMGuru from June 2009. He recognized, of course, the 26 lower- and 26 upper-case letters plus 10 digits for the suffixed strings, which at that time were (apparently) mostly five characters long. He had not recognized, however, that repetition was possible, so his calculation of the size of the URL pool required a more complex permutation formula and gave a smaller result than the simple approach I was able to use in Part I. In the first comment following Scott’s post, Arnim van Lieshout addressed both of these differences — multiple uses of a character and the appearance of 6-character strings — and did the appropriate N^R calculation for 5 characters. (I say all of this to emphasize that there was not much new in my Part I, at least at the conceptual level, even if I was newly discovering it for myself.)

Scott concluded his post with this statement: “I think it[‘]s safe to say that as long as the bit.ly database can handle the load, we don’t need to worry about them running out of URLs any time soon.” The conclusion of my Part I, however, was both an echo of and contrast with that comment: “Surely, then, 56 billion re-directs should last… us for a very long time, right? Hold that comforting thought for Part II….” [Cue the faintly-ominous organ music.]

There were two important sources of information that I used in what follows (which as far as I know is new, at least outside the corridors of bit.ly):

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“Soooo big!” Counting on bit.ly, Part I

The URL-shortening service, bit.ly, is heavily used on Twitter to help members stay within the 140-character limit for each tweet (post). According to a brief story by Ben Parr in Mashable, bit.ly took over first place in this market from TinyURL last August. If you are wondering how this could possibly be a “market” or why anyone would care, see the longer piece by Michael Arrington in TechCrunch from almost exactly a year ago.

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