Articles about Astronomy related topics. Information about public Astronomy outreach projects, observation notes and review of other Astronomy blogs.


Observations and opinions about wide and varied issues and challenges facing the environment.


Opinions and commentary about science related topics.

Social media

Commentary, reviews and opinions about the fast moving world of social networking web sites, applications and web services.


Opinions and observations about wide ranging topics related to technology.

Home » Social media context

Submitted by on April 12, 2009 – 21:09One Comment

For all those social networking junkies out there who spend hours on twitter, facebook and other online communities and instant messaging platforms, the notion of shortening a long URL is common place. For the uninitiated, let me explain. Lets say you’re sending a message on Twitter to someone which contains a URL. You’re limited to 140 characters in Twitter so you don’t want to take up all that precious space with a huge URL at the expense of fewer words for you to type in the rest of the message. So what do you do? You shorten the URL using any number of services that are out there today that allow you to quickly paste in a URL and shorten it it down to a few characters long. Quite often, Twitter clients and many other types of social networking software will have integrated with one or more URL shortening service API’s so you don’t even need to go to their web site to shorten the URL. It’s all very quick and simple.

Lets shorten a youtube URL for example. These can usually get quite long. Typically, when you shorten a URL such as:

… using a service such as you end up with a short URL looking like:

As you can see, the URL is less than half the size of the original. This is great, but when you look at that URL, do you have any clue what that URL is pointing to? No, you don’t. Enter, a new service by Tom Newton. Tom created this new service because he says, “I think knowing what type of content you’re going to see makes people more likely to click through.”

What Tom is eluding to is that short URLs today don’t have any context. What his new service does is give short URLs that missing context and this is how Tom says it works. “The service has a table of domains and extensions that it knows to be video content (or audio or photos or a multitude of other formats – ed) so it returns http://WACH.IT/hashcode if you post a video URL from say youtube.”

This sound pretty cool to me. Instead of a jumbled up random looking URL, I get a URL which obviously says that I’m about to click through to a video, or audio or picture, etc. Tom also has some further tricks up his sleeve with this new service. Says Tom, “Once a twitter user from an AIR client submits URLs to the service… we track which user created the links so in the end you’ll be able to go to http://LNK.BY/jupiterorbit and see a list of shortened urls you’ve created and how many clicks they’ve received.”

During my interview with Tom I was curious to know what technology was behind this new service and how it actually presented itself on screen. I learned that Tom is exploiting the power of cloud computing by hosting the service on Amazon’s EC2 service and using their SimpleDB database. This should give plenty of bandwidth and capacity to cope with load. With regards to the way the service will be accessed, Tom says “The site will just be a regular HTML site… so anyone can use the service by just navigating to the site, or with a little button link on their tool bar that we’ll make available. I’ll also publish the API so any application in any language can access the service, but I’ll also compile a very small library of code for AIR clients so that it literally takes a few minutes to get the service integrated into any AIR messaging client so at the end of the day… any human can use it easily in the browser, and any application can make use of it via the API.”

Follow me on Twitter!