Big changes are coming to Twitter links. In a post just published on the Twitter blog, the company has announced that it will soon be using a new official link shortening service t.co to wrap all links shared on Twitter. Starting some time this summer, every time you share a link through either the Twitter web client or a third-party, it will be wrapped in a link with the format t.co/******.
So what does this mean for the Twitter ecosystem? Twitter VP of Product Jason Goldman says that the feature serves three purposes. First, it’s going to help Twitter crack down on spam, as the service will be able to accurately monitor the distribution of each link, and it can warn users when it thinks a link may be malicious. Second, it will allow users to better understand where links are going (more on that below). And third, it will help Twitter with analytics, which is related to its Promoted Tweets. Goldman says that Twitter is pre-announcing the feature, which is currently only active with three accounts, to give the developer community a heads up for what’s coming.
The confusing part about t.co is that many users won’t really be aware of it. That’s because Twitter is including metadata with each tweet that allows clients to display the link’s original URL, even when the link is being routed through t.co first. For example, if I shared a link to TechCrunch.com, the link in my tweet would still show up as https://develop.techcrunch.com, despite the fact that users were being silently routed through t.co before they arrived at their favorite tech blog. One other thing to note: while users will now be seeing expanded links show up in their tweets (which could be quite lengthy), each link will only count as twenty characters against the 140 character maximum. That’s because all t.co links will be exactly twenty characters long.
Goldman says that the “goal is not to build a brand around t.co”. Instead, it’s to increase the transparency of links that are being shared on Twitter.
This isn’t good news for link shorteners like bit.ly, but it isn’t necessarily their death knell either. Goldman says that bit.ly’s value-added services, like analytics and custom shortened domains, will still work properly with t.co, and users can obviously still use bit.ly for more general link shortening purposes. Thing is, most people sharing links through services like bit.ly are doing it because it’s what their Twitter clients do by default — they don’t need analytics or custom domains. For these users there’s now no obvious reason to use these services, because Twitter will be handling the shortened links itself.
Today’s news doesn’t come as a surprise — back in March, Twitter began routing direct messages through a new link shortening service as an anti-phishing mechanism. It didn’t take long for users and developers to question whether Twitter would soon be broadly launching a link shortening service, and Twitter confirmed that it would in April.