Hack 36. Shorten Online Map URLs

Slim down the bloated URLs generated by online map services to make life easier when you send travel directions by email.

How many times has someone emailed you a link to some online travel directions to their house or office, only to have the lengthy, gibberish-filled URL break into two or more unusable pieces, which then need to be laboriously scooped back together and manually entered into your web browser location bar? This is typically so treacherous an operation that the slightest mistype will transform your desperately needed directions into so much digital garbage, a solemn po'-faced error page, or worse, directions to a place you do not want to travel to.

Here's a typical http://mapquest.com URL for O'Reilly Media's global headquarters in Sebastopol, California:

addtohistory =&searchtab=address&searchtype=address&

Worse, here's a link to MapQuest for driving directions from O'Reilly to the White House in Washington, DC:

src=maps& ct=NA&1a=1005%20Gravenstein%20Hwy%20N&1c=Sebastopol&1s=CA&

The previous URL is so bad that it made MS Word on OS X crash each time it was pasted on three consecutive attempts at writing this hack. Clearly, something has to be done about this terrifying state of affairs, and suggesting that one use vi or Emacs does not actually constitute a solution to the problem.

Fortunately for us, that something has already been done, and it's called URL shortening. Web sites such as http://metamark.net, http://makeashorterlink.com, and http://notlong.com allow you to paste a long URL like these MapQuest links one into a web form and, upon clicking Submit, receive a refreshingly short URL in return. When you or anyone else visits this abbreviated link, the URL shortening services look up the shortened link in a database and then automatically redirect your web browser to the original, verbosely linked destination.

For example, Metamark turns the first URL into the terse and eminently pasteable http://xrl.us/cnrw, which, we are earnestly informed, is 9% of the length of the original URL. Metamark also offers the option of selecting your own nickname for a URL, so that, for example, the second link can be found at http://xrl.us/ora2dc, which is only slightly longer than the other one, but arguably a bit easier to remember. Alternatively, notlong.com offers the same feature, but as part of the domain name, so that the first link can also be found at http://ora.notlong.com. Look, Ma, no broken links in your email!

URL-shortening services have other tricks up their sleeves, too. For example, most of them offer password protection if privacy is a concern. Almost all of them also have a companion bookmarklet, which is a little wodge of JavaScript that you can save to your browser's bookmark list or toolbar. If you've saved a bookmarklet for your favorite shortening service, you can simply click it any time you want a shortened URL for the web page you're currently looking at. One click! They can't make it any easier.

The various URL-shortening services offer other elaborations on this basic idea, and pretty much all of them promise to keep your link around for anywhere from five years from the last time it was clicked to more or less forever. We prefer Metamark and MakeAShorterLink, because they were built by various friends of ours, but you can find a comprehensive list to choose from online at http://notlong.com/links/.

Mapping Hacks
Mapping Hacks: Tips & Tools for Electronic Cartography
ISBN: 0596007035
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2004
Pages: 172
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