TinyURL and Disambiguation Pages Should Become Web Standards

There are two pieces of the web infrastructure that need refreshing:

  • The ability to generate short URLs so when I want to point someone to a book they don’t get this: http://www.amazon.com/Made-Stick-Ideas-Survive-Others/dp/1400064287/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1238028638&sr=8-1
  • Disambiguation pages for domain names, and the ability to have duplicate domain names.

(And I’ll preface this by saying that I know jack about web infrastructure, ICANN, etc. so some of this will probably be laughably naive for someone who does. I’m just looking at this from a user point of view.)

Short URLs

TinyURL has gone from being something you’d see occasionally to pervasive, especially with the short message needs dictated by Twitter and Facebook. But it’s also a great way for print to leverage online content, but right now most publications resort to typing out the entire URLs, which is both visually distracting and hard as a reader to enter into a browser accurately.

It seems like something so valuable should be more formalized and turned into a real function, rather than something left to a private company (Gilby Productions). I don’t know who Gilby Productions are, but I sure appreciate Tiny URL. But they also have a strangehold on an awful lot of content. If they close up shop for whatever reason, all of a sudden tens of millions of links become useless. The same goes for the other URL-shortening sites that have sprung up recently due to increased popularity of Twitter, Facebook, etc.

We should have a better way of doing things.  It should be built into browsers, email apps, social networking, etc. This would make things more convenient, more robust, and avoid the roundtrip through a third party site to generate the short url. Tiny URL itself offers an API and people have made plug-ins for various things that make the process smoother.

Nevertheless, I still worry about a single company, no matter how good their track record to do date, having this much “power”. One other url-shortening site I used for a little while (forget the name) disappeared without warning and probably took all those links with it. What if these sites forced us to watch an ad or pay a fee before revealing the destination? For highly transient stuff like Twitter feeds maybe the possibility of these companies disappearing and taking their coded links with them is not such a big deal, but for other uses a more permanent solution should be developed.

Duplicate Domain Disambiguation (DDD)

In this hot, flat crowded world we live in, we need a way to distinguish different companies, organizations and individuals that may have the same name. It used to be that when choosing your company name you only had to worry about local infringement (ie your town) or clashing with a Mega Corp. Today that is still the case from a legal point of view, but from a web findability and advertising point of view it is a non-starter. If a good name hasn’t already been claimed by a legit company, chances are a squatter is sitting on it, waiting for you to dream it up.

We need something like the disambiguation page from Wikipedia. An interstitial page that asks which of the, say, six “acmecorporation.com” you were looking for, along with a brief description of each to distinguish them.

Google serves this purpose today, but even then there can be confusion. And it doesn’t solve the basic problem that we should be able to have exact duplicate urls (at least from an end-user’s perspective), just as there are many Acme Corporations out there making all kinds of different things. Someone at each of those Acme’s today has to come up with a clever variation on acme.com in order to get noticed on the web.