Twitter will soon automatically shorten all links shared on its service — a move that may once again pit it against startups that have built their business around the site. The company says in a blog post that beginning this summer “all links on Twitter.com or third-party apps will be wrapped with a t.co URL.” One of several reasons Twitter gives for the decision: “If you want to share a link through Twitter, there currently isn’t a way to automatically shorten it and we want to fix this. It should be easy for people to share shortened links from the Tweet box on Twitter.com.”
True, although Twitter clients — like TweetDeck — have made it incredibly easy to shorten URLs using services like bit.ly and tinyurl, and Twitter’s move may now put the future of those services into question. Twitter says people will still be able to use their existing link shorteners — although it will “wrap” those links with its own. Other short URLs — or at least the links they are shortening — might also still show up since Twitter says its current plan is to downplay the “t.co URL” and instead “display links in a way that removes the obscurity of shortened links and lets you know where a link will take you.” (Think Google’s goo.gl or Facebook’s fb.me).
By taking more control over the link shortening process, Twitter says it will also be able to protect users from “malicious content” and also be able to improve its fledgling ad platform, which will take into account how users engage with Tweets by advertisers to determine how often the ads show up. Twitter says that the data that comes from shortening URLs will be useful for that — and that it might also provide some other services based on it.
The move comes as Twitter has expanded into other areas it previously left to other startups. For instance, in April it acquired popular Twitter iPhone client Tweetie and said it would relaunch it as its official iPhone app and it has also banned third-party ad networks from its site. Twitter has defended all of those decisions by saying they’re necessary to better serve users.