Thursday’s with Fergie: The Story of BURL

Because I know you all read my blog on a regular basis, I’m sure you know most of the details already. 🙂
In any event, this is the story of BURL, an idea that changed the way I think about the Internet (yes, I said the “I” word).

It all started on Monday, with an article on Lifehacker called Tiny URL Etiquette. For those not in the “know”, TinyURL is a website that let’s you take a long URL, such as: http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=fad44098-8b73-4e06-96d4-d1eb70eacb44&displaylang=en and makes it shorter, like so: http://tinyurl.com/4gdju. However, as the article pointed out, “[s]ending a shortened URL means you lose all the context that normal URLs provide.” Using the above as an example: with the long link, you immediately see microsoft.com and instantly know that it has something to do with Microsoft. But with the TinyURL, you have no idea where it points to.

“For those reasons, consider posting both the original URL as well as the tinyurled one. Let your audience know where they’re linking to. Adding both raises the level of trust and lets people decide more knowingly whether they want to follow that link or not.”

BURL was born. My idea behind a Better Universal Resource Location, BURL, was to bring back at least some of the context of the URL being linked to. I wrote the initial version in about two hours right after I got out of school. I wrote back to Lifehacker informing them of
my Proof-of-Concept and they posted a short article about it the next day!
Alternative Short URLs With BURL
Yesterday we talked about Tiny URL Etiquette and the fact that sometimes tiny isn’t better. Sometimes short URLs don’t contain enough information to let a person know where they’re going.
In response to that concern Lifehacker reader Andrew Ferguson
created BURL—Better URL. It shortens a URL yet leaves some context.
Nice work.

Yea. Waaaay cool. You see, Lifehacker is listed as one of the Top 100 Blogs by CNET. To even get mentioned on it was awesome. Within 24 hours, over 500 people had stopped by and tried out BURL. Definitely exciting. I spent a few more days tweaking it a bit and then yesterday I decided to make it way better. I learned how to implement something called AJAX (it’s a collection of several languages that provide a very cool interactive interface) and now BURL uses AJAX which is freaking awesome (at least in my book).

Yes, a very nerdy story, but that’s what your expect and hopefully enjoy from me. Have a great weekend and prepare for an awesome story
for next Thursday!

And next time you need a short URL, remember to make it a BURL


More on BURL

As I said before, I’ve created BURL (Better URL). It’s really more of proof of concept based on an article at Lifehacker on Tiny URL Etiquette. The issue with TinyURL and just about any other site similar to it is that all context is lost. If I post a link to http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=fad44098-8b73-4e06-96d4-d1eb70eacb44&displaylang=en, you can take one glance at it and know that it has something to do with Microsoft. However, if I post a link to http://tinyurl.com/4gdju, you have nothing. There is zero context to what is being linked to and you have to trust the sender of the link to provide that context. What I tried to do is maintain some of the context of the original link. A BURL link looks like this: http://burl.fergcorp.com/microsoft/6e1c1. Yes, it is longer but you now have context. And the best part is, all you still have to do is enter just the URL in. BURL automatically takes the domain name and makes that the context word.

Now a few notes on the programming side. This is just a proof of concept. I wrote the code in just a few hours and while I’ve done quite a bit of testing, I’ve not done enough to consider it final. So, if you come across any bugs or glitches, just let me know. Otherwise, enjoy!