Tr.im goes open-source, founder questions bit.ly-Twitter link

Turns down buyouts, will give away code and domain of URL shortening service

Little more than a week after Nambu Network said it was shutting down URL-shortener tr.im, and just days after the service was reactivated, its founder announced he would take the code open-source and give up the attractive URL.

"Starting today, tr.im will begin its migration into the public domain, becoming 100 per cent community-owned, operated and developed," said Eric Woodward, the president of Nambu, in a blog post Monday.

Woodward promised that Nambu would renounce ownership of the tr.im domain and release the service's source code by Sept. 15. It's not clear where the domain will end up, however.

"I would prefer to donate the domain name to an organization that already exists, rather than form a new one, but I am still investigating the options here," Woodward said in an e-mail today.

"We will work out the legalities over the coming weeks, but it will ensure no one is ever able to hijack tr.im URLs in the future. They will always exist, period."

The source code for tr.im will be released under the MIT open-source license.

Tr.im will also offer all link-map data associated with its URLs to "anyone that wants it in real-time," added Woodward, who pledged to personally guarantee any shortfall in tr.im's operating expenses.

Woodward had hinted at the move last week, when Nambu resurrected tr.im just three days after it took the service offline.

"If...we don't find someone credible, we'll give it away," he said in an interview last Wednesday, referring to a renewed effort to locate a reputable buyer who would pay his $US100,000 asking price.

Today, he elaborated, saying that he had received offers that met his price, but had rejected them. "I had options to sell tr.im for $US100,000+, but they were not ideal," Woodward said in his e-mail.

"They were sites that wanted to use tr.im to increase their own compete.com numbers by redirecting the tr.im URLs through their own domain name, some wanted to hijack all the links, or they were unknown startups trying to raise their profile."

In his blog post, Woodward again blamed Twitter for making it impossible for URL-shortening services like tr.im to turn a profit. "It is our hope that tr.im can now begin to stand in contrast to the closed twitter/bit.ly walled garden," he said, after also calling the Twitter-bit.ly partnership an "embargo."

Last May, Twitter quietly changed the default URL shortener for its users to bit.ly, having dumped TinyURL.com. According to Woodward, that change doomed tr.im.

John Borthwick, the CEO of Betaworks, the company that started bit.ly, disagreed. "Depending on the day, bit.ly gets 6 per cent to 10 per cent of its traffic directly from Twitter," he said.

Borthwick argued that bit.ly is being selected by others, most recently by Google for use in its Google Reader RSS service, not because of any relationship between the companies, but because it's a better shortener.

But he applauded Woodward's move to take tr.im open-source. "It's a great idea," he said. "It's innovative and creative."

Woodward claimed that the $US10,000 that bit.ly offered him for tr.im last week was only an attempt to "generate attention for their shallow initiative to address link-rot. It was transparent, and so I rejected it."

The initiative Woodward referred to is 301works.org, a bit.ly-backed project that aims to protect shortened URLs so that if a particular service goes down or out of business, the links will still work. After Woodward announced the tr.im was going dark as of Aug. 9, users blasted the decision because they worried their links would no longer work.

Woodward also questioned Borthwick's claims that bit.ly has gained relatively little from Twitter selecting it as the micro-blogging service's default shortener.

"I don't have these numbers myself, but it simply does not compute," said Woodward. "Twitter is processing millions and millions of tweets per day now, and the largest Twitter client by far -- twitter.com -- has 50-60 per cent market share. But bit.ly as the only option there processes [less than] 10 per cent of their URL creation requests from twitter.com? It's nonsense. Why has bit.ly's market share spiked upward since the switch? It is nice spin though to try and deflect the criticism."

All URL-shortening services convert conventional URLs into shortened strings that redirect users to the intended destination. Much of their traffic comes from Twitter users who want to add links to tweets, which are limited to 140 characters.

Woodward called on all URL-shortening services to follow tr.im's lead into open-source.

"It is my personal opinion, after last week, that the usage of URL shorteners needs to transition into the public domain, or the need for them within social networks such as Twitter and Facebook needs to be eliminated," he said yesterday.

"But by so clearly favouring bit.ly, Twitter is able to control this flow of shared link data in a way it would not otherwise be able to. No one outside of the chosen few can access this data, and that is just not right."

He also warned that unless Twitter excludes links from its 140-character limit, the future looks dim.

"I hope that Twitter and other aspiring social networks allow users to attach links to their status updates outside of any arbitrary character limitation, preventing the looming crisis of link-rot that bit.ly/twitter is potentially creating," he said.

"Link-rot" is the term used to describe the phenomenon in which links gradually become useless over time as sites disappear, modify their pages or even move to new domains.

When talking about URL shorteners, it describes the problem caused when a service goes out of business or stops working, the very issue users raised concerns about tr.im last week when pulled the plug.

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Gregg Keizer

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
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