TinyURL outage trips up Twitterers

With TinyURL, it's reassuring to see a major Internet service that still looks like it's being run from a dorm room.

"TinyURL is experiencing temporary dificulties." Yes, that's "dificulties."

A service outage at TinyURL, the website that converts long Web addresses to short ones, reminded me today that supersize companies such as Google and Yahoo haven't completely locked up the Internet.

TinyURL was set up in 2002 by Kevin Gilbertson, a young programmer in Minnesota frustrated by the long URLs of newsgroup postings.

Today, Gilbertson claims 1.75 billion hits per month to the service. Yet the TinyURL site still consists mostly of a modest blue-and-white homepage, with a Google ad banner on one side.

TinyURL is used automatically by Twitter to truncate URLs entered into Twitter status updates. Gilbertson couldn't be reached immediately for comment, but Twitter has obviously raised the bar on TinyURL to serve more hits with less downtime. [UPDATE: Kevin Gilbertson said in an email, "Twitter is estimated to be the source of about 8% of our traffic."]

Today's [Friday] outage pointed out, ironically, just how good Gilbertson's uptime is. A few minutes ago, www.tinyurl.com returned a "500 Server Error" page to me. Unlike Twitter's cute-but-uninformative Fail Whale, TinyURL's simple, text-only error page included instructions to edit the URL in my browser to reach a backup server, b.tinyurl.com. That worked.

At 1.75 billion hits per month, it's surprising that Google, Yahoo and Microsoft haven't stepped in with their own shorter-URL services. But it's reassuring to see a major Internet service that still looks like it's being run from a dorm room.

Please, Kevin or whoever, leave "dificulties" misspelled. It's part of your brand.

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