Well, the problems I’ve experienced with the service to this point lead me to believe it’s not ready for primetime. It worked for most of a day, but now it doesn’t and it leads to 404 Not Found errors when I click a link. I’m back to using Lessn.
Several months ago I read about an awesome, simple URL shortening program called Lessn. It’s a simple installation on a web server that lets you use a custom shortening domain name (in my case, jerz.us) so you don’t have to use things like ow.ly (which embeds a frame on the page that has to be removed by the user) or tinyurl.com, which is just not as interesting or unique. Lessn did its job for me, but always lacked an easy way to track the clicks. I haven’t worried too much about that in the time I used Lessn, simply because I didn’t care who was clicking the things I shared with jerz.us. It was mostly my way of linking back to my own blog (which I can track anyway) or passing along links through Twitter.
A couple of weeks ago I came across a link to bitly.pro’s new service. It is free and based on the popular link shortener bit.ly. To use it, you add your own custom shortening domain and begin creating links. For instance, jerz.us/a7ilo5 links to twitter.com. bit.ly/a7ilo5 also links to Twitter. It just takes the normal short code for a site and uses my domain to display it. As I typically do with this site, I had to test it out. So I asked for an invitation and received one last week.
After setting up my domain with bitly.pro, my initial thought was how do I make this an easy thing to use with Twitter on my iPhone. I use Tweetie 2, easily my favorite client of the five or so I’ve tried. Tweetie has an option to customize which URL shortener you use when you ask it to shorten links for you (from the accounts page, select Settings > Services > URL Shortening). I went immediately to the custom shortening option and attempted to plug in the necessary things, which boils down to the API endpoint used by bit.ly. After tweaking the endpoint to read:
http://bit.ly/api?api_key=API_KEY &username=USERNAME &password=PASSWORD&url=%@
I tried shortening a link. It still came out with a bit.ly address. According to the bitly.pro FAQs, this should not be this difficult:
Will my custom domain work with 3rd-party tools?
Once a custom domain has been configured for your bitly.Pro account, all 3rd-party tools that allow you to enter your bit.ly username and API key will now shorten URLs with your custom domain.
I read that, re-read it, and kept tweaking. Finally, I noticed something helpful while looking at the Tweetie screen for selecting the URL shortening service. Bitly.pro was telling me that any use of one of their services would result in my custom domain replacing their link.
Basically, I was doing it wrong. It was actually easier than I made it out to be. So I chose j.mp as my service and tried again. Voila, it worked. I had to enter my username and API key (from the Accounts page, select Settings > Services > API Keys), which you can get at the bit.ly account page after logging in.
This opens up a new dimension for a small publisher like me. I get a free service that uses my own custom domain for shortening links. I also get to use that service wherever I like (be it on my desktop or mobile), and it tracks the clicks for me, which allows for further testing and knowledge of what I’m doing. This will also serve as a cool experiment for initiating the same thing at work.