Tag: Tools

How To Shorten a Web Address (URL) To Put In a Print Newsletter

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Have you wanted to put a web address (technically called a "URL") in a printed newsletter, article or other document so that readers could go to that website? But when you look at the web address, it is a big long ugly address that no one in their right mind is going to type?

There's an easy solution!

Driven mostly by the character limitations of social networks like Twitter, there is an entire series of services out there that offer "URL shortening"[1]. The first that many of us found was TinyURL.com, which still works great. Personally, my choice these days has been bitly, primarily because it provides tracking statistics on the number of people who use your link. There are literally another 100 or so URL shortening services out there that you can choose from.

Regardless of what service you choose to use, the steps are basically the same.

1. Identify the long URL you want to shorten

For example, say that you wanted to include in a newsletter, article, church bulletin or similar printed document the link to this TIME Magazine special report on "The World at 7 Billion". Unfortunately, TIME's website uses absolutely hideous URLs:


That's a URL that not even an engineer could love! It's too long, so it will probably split across lines if it is in a printed newsletter... and it has all those numbers which would be extremely easy for someone to mess up if they were actually to try to copy this URL from the newsletter. Imagine if you were going to put this into a printed newsletter with text like this:

To learn more about challenges facing the world as we now have more than 7 billion people on this planet, read the TIME Magazine special report at http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2097720_2097782,00.html

How many readers are really going to be able to copy that into their browser without any errors? How many will even try?

2. Enter the long URL in a URL shortening site

On you have identified the long URL, you just need to go to whatever shortening service you want to use (TinyURL in this case) and enter in the long URL (I just do a copy/paste from the browser address window):


Once you click the button to shorten the URL, you'll get back a screen like this containing your shortened URL:


In this case that big long hideous URL was shortened to just:


That's it!

3. Copy the short URL into your print newsletter/document

Now all you need to do is copy that short URL into your newsletter text. For instance, here's that same text as above:

To learn more about challenges facing the world as we now have more than 7 billion people on this planet, read the TIME Magazine special report at http://tinyurl.com/3hy8poy

MUCH better! Odds are that most folks can enter that URL successfully into their browser and get to the article.[2] You can, of course, even make it a bit more readable by dropping the "http://" off the front of the URL if you can safely assume of our readership that the "tinyurl.com" would clue them in that this is a web address.

You're done!

Bonus: Creating an even-more-readable custom URL

Now, "tinyurl.com/3hy8poy" is probably something that most people could easily copy over into their browser, but what if you could make it even easier for readers to remember the URL?

Note in the TinyURL.com site this box for a "Custom alias":

Tinyurlshortening alias1

What you can do is enter whatever text you want in that box, and, if that URL is available, the TinyURL.com service will use that text as the shortened URL. For instance, I tried "7billion" and "7billionppl" but both were already taken. However, "7billionpeople" worked:

Tinyurl alias2

So now I can give out this URL to point to the article:


Let's take a look at my proposed printed newsletter text again:

To learn more about challenges facing the world as we now have more than 7 billion people on this planet, read the TIME Magazine special report at http://tinyurl.com/7billionpeople

Now that ought to be something that people can easily remember and/or copy over into their browser without any errors.


... my customized URL was longer than the original shortened URL.

That's okay! It's far shorter than that big ugly URL used by TIME's website, and it is far more "readable" than the random group of letters and numbers originally provided by TinyURL.com.

Remember... the goal is to put something in print that people can actually be successful in typing into their browser address window. If you have to make it a little bit longer in order to make it more readable, that may be okay.[3]

One final note - URLs from a shortening service generally CANNOT be re-used. Once the shortened URL (custom or randomly generated) has been created, it is fixed forever and always to point at whatever longer URL was entered in the service. I say this because if you are playing around to see what kind of custom URLs might be available, you need to make sure that the real longer URL is what you are shortening... because you won't have a second chance.

Again, there are at this point literally hundreds of URL shortening services out there. They all work pretty much the same and will let you make your print newsletters/documents MUCH more readable - and make it so that readers just might actually type in the link and go do the site you are referencing!

[1] For those who want more details about the "URL shortening" process, there is a lengthy Wikipedia article on the topic.

[2] One reason that I'm a fan of using bitly for URL shortening versus TinyURL.com is that bitly tracks who actually uses your URL and shows you statistics and charts so you can see that your URL is actually being used. Now, unlike TinyURL, you do have to register for a free bitly account in order to use their service.

[3] And I could have spent some time trying to find a shorter URL that wasn't taken... but there's a tradeoff between shortness and readability. "7billipeople" was probably available, too, but people aren't going to recognize that

Image credit: chrisdlugosz on Flickr

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Klout’s Other Major Fail: Violating Historial Integrity/Accuracy

There is a fundamental rule in database theory that when data is recorded in a database, it is "immutable". It cannot be changed. Applications may act on the data, but the integrity of the underlying data is intact.

Consider a database tracking temperatures over time. The temperature sensor at my house might record into the database that it is 31 degrees F right at this time and date.

That data should always remain intact.

If I query the temperature database tomorrow for today's temperature at 8am, the database should say that it was 31 degrees F. If I query the database 5 months from now... or 5 years from now... the database should always spit back the 31 degree temperature.

The historical answer will always be identical.

This is just a fundamental principle of databases that are tracking data over a period of time.

Klout's Revision of History

In the ongoing kerfuffle about Klout's changes to their "influence metric", nicely summarized by Mathew Ingram over at GigaOm (lots of links to read), one point I haven't seen made is this:

Klout revised its (and your) history!

Consider this... back on Monday when I wrote about how I disliked the way Klout is treating its metric like a game, I included this screenshot:


Now consider this screenshot taken right at this moment that shows my current Klout score and the trend of my score over the last period of time:


Hmmm... where is that "62"?

Instead Klout now shows that my score was 59-ish.

They changed my history.

Now, in my case, I don't really care. My life will not be any better or worse based on whatever changes happen to my Klout Score. Makes zero difference to me.

But for all those people complaining on the Internet about how their Klout score dropped dramatically... not only did it drop, but...


You might claim you had a Klout score of 50, 60, 70, 80, whatever... but nope, you didn't... the chart shows quite clearly that your score never achieved whatever milestone you thought it did.


Changing Algorithms Without Changing History

Now I personally have no issue with Klout changing their algorithm to make it better. In fact, I applaud them for doing so. Algorithms need to change as more experience is attained and more data is collected.

I want better metrics.

So change the algorithm. Go ahead.

But personally I'd love history to be kept intact. Show the change in the algorithm NOW. Sure, the trend graph would show a big drop. Okay. Then, like in Google Analytics, we can all make a notation that the algorithm was changed on such-and-such a date and our score now reflects the new algorithm. No big deal.

The Counterpoint

But what if the algorithm had a fundamental error in it? Shouldn't you go back and revise all the data?

Consider my temperature example - what if I found that the thermometer in my house was actually off by 4 degrees? That it was actually 4 degrees colder outside that it was showing?

Wouldn't it make sense to go back and change all the historical readings for that sensor to be 4 degrees colder? (Assuming I could pinpoint the time at which it started being inaccurate... or just made the assumption that it had always been inaccurate.)

And yes... there's certainly a school of thought that says you should go back and revise history. The other school of thought would be to leave history alone and indicate that from this point forward the sensor data will now be more accurate.

It's obvious which school of thought Klout fits in.

Klout's Ecosystem "Problem"

The "problem" Klout has... and I put "problem" in quotes because it's the kind of "problem" any small startup would LOVE to have... is that they've had a lot of companies and developers using Klout's APIs to build other applications and systems that interact with Klout's metric. In fact, Klout is claiming over 3500 "partners and developers".

And you have to imagine that some % of those developers are engaging in tracking Klout scores over time. They want to track the trend of their own score... or their competitors score... or their clients' scores... or whatever.

All of that trend data just got rendered inaccurate.

It doesn't matter if Application X says that your client had a Klout score of 43 last week.... the official Klout database now says that the client's score was really 32... and it never was 43.

Oops. Now the application has "bogus" data.

Klout's Reporting Problem

Plus, if you were presenting reports or charts regularly to a client (or your management) showing them their Klout score, now you have to go back to the client and say "I'm sorry, but Klout revised their algorithm and you never had that score I told you."

You look like an idiot for trusting a metric that changes like this.

Of course, you're not alone, as Bob LeDrew so eloquently pointed out in his post yesterday "A Klout Upside The Head"... obviously many people are taking Klout's metric very seriously. (And way more seriously than I would even remotely consider.)

The fact that some people are using Klout's metric for business decisions would, in my mind, point to Klout needing to consider historical accuracy/integrity a bit stronger.

Sure, change the algorithm if you need to... but keep the history intact so that your partners and users don't look like idiots.

A Wake-up Call?

In the end will this kerfuffle make people be a little bit more critical of the Klout Score?
Will people realize it is only one of the metrics they should consider?
Will they take a look at other metrics that are emerging?

As the CEO of (Klout competitor) PeerIndex noted yesterday, there are many different ways of defining "influence"... and the market and all these companies are very young.

Will people realize that they shouldn't blindly rely on one simple metric?

While I'd love to believe people might - and we can only hope that at least some people will, I guess I'm cynical enough to think that people want nice, simple, easy metrics... and Klout is delivering that. Give it a few days for all this to blow over and sadly people will probably be right back caring about their Klout Score.

Only now perhaps they'll take occasional screenshots to be able to back up later claims about the score whenever Klout does its next revision of history...

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