Time for a TinyNS?

In a comment to Printing Out Online Course Materials With Embedded Movie Links Alan Levine suggests: “I’d say you are covered for people lacking a QR reader device since you have the video URL in print; about all you could is run through some process that generates a shorter link” [the emphasis is mine].

I suspect that URL shortening services have become increasingly popular because of the rise of the blog killing (wtf?!) microblogging services, but they’ve also been used for quite some time in magazines and newspapers. And making use of them in (printed out) course materials might also be a handy thing to do. (Assessing the risks involved in using such services is the sort of thing Brian Kelly may well have posted about somewhere; but see also towards the end of this post.)

Now anyone who knows me knows that my mobile phone is a hundred years old and won’t go anywhere near the interweb (though I can send short emails through a free SMS2email gateway I found several years ago!). So I don’t know if the browsers in smart phones can do this already… but it seems to me a really useful feature for a mobile browser would be something like the Mozilla/Firefox smart keywords.

Smart keywords are essentially bookmarks that are invoked by typing a keyword in the browser address bar and hitting return – the browser will then take you to the desired URL. Think of it like a URL “keyboard shortcut”…

One really nice feature of smart keywords is that they can handle an argument… For example, here’s a smart keyword I have defined in my browser (Flock, which is built from the Firefox codebase).

Given a TinyURL (such as http://tinyurl.com/6nf2z) all I need to type into my browser address bar is t 6nf2z to go there.

Which would seem like a sensible thing to be able to do in a browser on a mobile device… (maybe you already can? But how many people know how to do it, if so?)

(NB To create a TinyURL for the page you’re currently viewing at the click of a button, it’s easiest to use something like the TinyURL bookmarklet.)

Now one of the problems with URL shortening services is that you become reliant on the short URL provider to decode the shortened URL and redirect you to the intended “full length” URL. The relationship between the actual URL and the shortened URL is arbitrary, which is where the problem lies – the shortened URL is not a “lossless compressed” version of the original URL, it’s effectively the assignment of a random code that can be used to look up the full URL in a database owned by the short URL service provider. Cf. the scheme used by services like delicious, which generate an “MD5 hash” of a URL which does decode (usually!) to the original URL (see Pivotal Moments… (pivotwitter?!) for links to Yahoo pipes that decode both TinyURLs and delcious URL encodings).

So this got me thinking – what would a “TinyNS” resolution service look like that sat one level above DNS resolution – the domain name resolution service that takes you from a human readable domain name (e.g. http://www.open.ac.uk) to an IP (internet protocol) address (something like 194.66.152.28).

Could (should) we set up trusted parties to mirror the mapping of shortened URL codes from the different URL shortening services (TinyURL, bit.ly, is.gd and so on) and provide distributed resolution of these short form URLs, just in case the original services go down?

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

2 thoughts on “Time for a TinyNS?”

  1. Ick, it feels like a captcha. What you need is something to map that unmemorable and hard to type “6nf2z” to a word. Even a few extra characters wouldn’t outweigh the ease of remembering the thing. “t tomato” or “t upwards”, something like that.

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