Third Party Tools And Your Web Presence

Third Party Tools And Your Web Presence

Anybody remember They went dark in August 2009.

Nick Bilton's Tweet

As Ben Parr noted at the time:

If shuts down its servers, millions of links will simply die. Poof, just like that. Someone could even buy and redirect all the links to spam, porn, or malware. no longer resolves to a website. Try their blog. It’s not there.

Think about that. If you were heavily invested in, you ran the very real risk that your links would redirect to a porn or malware site. Someone might click one of your links, thinking they’re going to read your glowing review of some Twitter client, only to be staring at schlong. Schlong. Or even more offensively, malware.

Guess what that reader now associates your site with. Go on, guess. And you have no control over it.

Okay, so maybe you’re using something more dependable. Maybe you’ve been using them for years. No problem, right? What if you’d been using Digg’s URL shortener?

In July 2009, Digg changed the way their URL shortener worked. From Business Insider:

Instead of sending viewers to the Web site that had been shortened, it started sending people to a page on that had a link to the target URL. This means that anyone using the Digg URL shortener – as we had on our Twitter account for a few days, for instance – would be forcing its readers through a middle man. Hardly elegant or ideal.

Digg eventually backed off this decision, but the risk is still very real. Who knows what’s going to be displayed on that “middle man” page. It’s a safe bet that page will be flooded with advertising. Advertising that you would never put on your site. Advertising that you’d prefer your readers not associate with your site. With your work. With your effort. With your sweat equity. And yet there it is. Splayed all over their gigantic screens, in front of Granny and God, background music blaring, boobies bouncing.

Guess what that reader now associates your site with. Go on, guess. And you have no control over it.

If you care about privacy, are you really going to send your readers through (Hint: No.)

Do you use WordPress? They have fairly regular security updates. Have you ever applied an update and had a plugin stop functioning? I have. Back when I used WordPress, this was a regular occurrence for me. It’s still a real issue for others today. Just go check their forums. There’s nothing worse than a cool plugin, which you’ve come to rely on, break because of an update. Or worse, perhaps the developer decides to stop working on the plugin and nobody picks up the slack. Goodbye plugin and – possibly – goodbye functionality.

These are all very real considerations that you need to resolve before you commit to a third-party. This isn’t fantasy. This isn’t make believe. This is not fear-mongering. This is reality. This is stuff that has already happened and could very easily – and mostly likely will – happen again.

And again.

And again.

Is this any way to run a website?

If you’re a weekend warrior and don’t have aspirations beyond that, you’re good. Let it go. Have fun and godspeed.

But if you want more than that, this is something you need to consider and consider seriously.

Dave and I faced this head-on with when the whole gig went down. We’d only recently gone live, were using, and suddenly were faced with links that would no longer work. Fortunately, we’d only just gone live. We could edit the few posts we’d made. We could easily recover.

But we looked at the situation and decided it was unacceptable. So we registered and started using that. Over time, we decided we didn’t need a URL shortener because the website was more of a “fun thing” than anything we’d ever pursue seriously.

But that panic moment stayed with me and I’ve never let it go. It was a major consideration when I rewrote this site. And it was the #1 reason that I purchased the domain is powered by YOURLS, which is an open source and free-to-use URL shortener. And if you need to stay with WordPress, they have a plugin. (Word to the wise: WordPress updates have borked this plugin in the past but the YOURLS guys are good about playing catch-up. Still, in the interim, you have to decide between the importance of security and the necessity of shortened URLs. This is not an ideal situation.)

YOURLS is stupid-easy to install. A custom domain is relatively cheap. And these two things combined place complete and total power in your hands. Yeah, it’ll cost you the price of two domain names rather than one. But that’s the total cost. You don’t have to worry about schlongs, boobies, God or Granny. You don’t have to worry about invisible ink.

And if YOURLS suddenly goes unsupported tomorrow? Who cares? The basic functionality is there. It’ll keep working regardless. True, the WordPress plugin may break, but that’s the life of a WordPress administrator. You can always resort to using your YOURLS website interface. You’re still functional.

There are other freely available URL shortening packages available. You should probably check them out and determine which is best for you. But I think this much is clear: placing your professional presence in the hands of a third party is short-sighted at best and a recipe for disaster at worst. Don’t go there unless necessary. To the extent that’s possible, own your presence.