Can I Share Something With You?

I’m fed up with the state of online (and offline) “sharing.” I’m talking about the experience of seeing something you like and sharing that sentiment (and a suitable URI*) with a community you care about (your Twitter followers, for example). I had three sharing experiences over the long weekend, none of which were very satisfying.

Example 1: The TechCrunch Europe article on start-up frustrations with BT’s Fibre roll-out. I was trying out an App, Pulse, and ended up reading the original article through this. Pulse is essentially a smart feed reader that downloads and caches articles – one advantage being that you can read them while off-line. (NB: when will someone write an HTML5 “app” that uses local storage to do the same thing?) Anyway, I wanted to share the article using the app’s built in Twitter button. That brought up a pop-up int he app which gave me a link shortened with Pule’s own link shortener ( I wasn’t too comfortable with this because while I’m happy for the company behind Pulse to know that I’m using their app to send the tweet, I’m not so happy for them to be able to collect information on who’s reading my tweet. Plus I don’t know what that user experience will be when any other random person pulls up that URI. And I have no other option to use a third party shortener.

Example 2: The David Mitchell column in the Observer. This was the most dysfunctional. First of all, I had been reading the article itself in the paper version. I, like many other people in the world, read actual newspapers sometimes printed on real paper. But I find myself increasingly frustrated that there is no easy way to share directly from this medium. In this case, I read the article and I wanted to share it so I got out my phone then went to (which thankfully does browser sniffing so automatically redirected me to a mobile-friendly home page). Then I had to find the article I had just been reading. I wanted to share right from the article page but no dice. I spent a few minutes looking around for “share me” buttons or menus – nothing (why?). Ok – so I shared directly from the browser menu. That brings up a contextual menu of all the ways you can share something (confusing!) – I chose Tweetdeck. I then had to ask Tweetdeck to shorten the URI (which it did using so that it would fit (why?). Then I sent out my Tweet, which now had a version of a URI to pointing to a mobile-friendly page (which itself does not do browser sniffing). So when another person on a Web browser on a regular PC views that link it shows up as one long column in the middle of their page. Yes – it worked, but totally unsatisfactory. And what about the link to print? Shouldn’t print newspapers start publishing a shortcut, QR code or short link in their print editions to close the gap between print and online? I’m just sayin’.

Example 3: Today, I shared a link from Plancast about the upcoming Federated Social Web Europe event. When I shared from plancast it send me over to which automatically re-shortened the already shortened link with Twitter’s own link shortener. became Well – I didn’t want to use, I wanted to use Why? I have this idea that using link shorteners that are controlled by the same organization that produced the original link is slightly less brittle than using third party link shortners. That’s fine – I re-pasted the link over the link and sent my Tweet. Except, wait! Go to the tweet in question and use the contextual menu (right click) to copy the link and then paste it somewhere else for inspection. Oops! becomes again! Thanks, Twitter! Then, to add insult to injury I get the following reply from my friend Ajit (presumably because his Blackberry browser balked at whatever or or decided to sling at him – but who knows at this point?

One more note of frustration: even in putting together this post, I had to manually edit the URIs that Twitter gave me as the canonical pointers to my Twitter posts. Why? Because Twitter insists on using the #! convention and I know that doesn’t work very well in some (especially mobile) browsers whereas if you use the same URI without the #! it works universally. (See Jeni Tennison’s blog for a great post on #! URIs.) Also, I have the “always use secure http” flag set to “on” in my Twitter preferences, meaning that if I copy and paste the URI, that will be the “https” URI – which is also probably not the best one to use in a post.

It’s clear that in this burgeoning era of the Social Web, people are sharing more, and in more ways, than ever before. This is a good thing. But we’ve got to get the user experience right and we’ve got to do it in a way that stands the test of time. The current maze of link shorteners, apps, interfaces, etc… has been great for innovation but it’s not sustainable or scalable. I hope that 2011 brings us some innovation that makes it easier to share (and to understand what’s being shared), in a way that is more in line with how the Web works (open, transparent, scaleable, traceable).

* For those confused by my use of the term URI, this is what Web standards wonks call URLs. Now that I’m a member of the TAG, I am legally obligated to say URI instead of URL. So be it.

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2 Comments on “Can I Share Something With You?

  1. Why do we need url shorteners at all? Even shortened urls are a waste of space in a micropost. A single clickable icon to represent a link that would also show the url when you hovered your mouse over it would suffice. Or just let us do regular hyperlinks like we can in email. Aren’t shortened urls on Twitter just a legacy from the days of a simpler interface?

  2. Well yes and no. I can think of a number of reasons why you might want to shorten URIs (ahem), especially when URIs these days can be so long with so many query parameters. Email readers tend to cut off long URIs at 80 characters leaving them un-clickable when they reach their destination. Also if you want to put a URI on a business card or some other printed medium then you sometimes want to shorten it. Also URI shorteners were around before Twitter – it was called and it’s still there, in full early 90s retro blue. The fact is that these URI shorteners have become a part of how people use the Web. There are technical reasons for this but also social reasons: sharing a short, compact, pretty URI has become more “polite” than sharing the long, expanded, ugly URI.

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