The URL shortening game, vital to embedded links within Tweets, has just lost a player: Tr.im is shutting up shop. Not because it wasn't successful in a very competitive field—but because its owners didn't like its prospects in a heated market.
Its parent company, Nambu, made the announcement in tr.im's own blog late last night with the following simple text: "Regretfully, we here at Nambu have decided to shutdown tr.im, the first step in shutting down all of our products and services within that brand."
Tr.im pins its decision on an elusive search for revenue: "tr.im did well for what it was, but, alas, it was not enough. We simply cannot find a way to justify continuing to work on it, or pay its network costs, which are not inconsequential." Of course, Nambu couldn't ask users to pay to have URLs shortened, but you'd think there'd be money in advertising revenue or, more promisingly, in the stream of real-time data that the URLs generate, something Bit.ly is trying to capitalize on in a new news service.
You might think that ... but Nambu doesn't. At all. "Everyone has this data," its farewell blog gripes. "Tr.im gets hit by countless bots every day farming this data to create and operate Web sites such as tweetmeme.com. So, *everyone* has this data, meaning it is basically worthless *by itself* to base a business on." That's a not-so-subtle swipe at bit.ly's attempt to innovate a new product.
Nambu had more bile to spread around, blaming Twitter for naming bit.ly as a default shortening client. With "bit.ly the Twitter default, and with us having no inside connection to Twitter, tr.im will lose over the the long-run no matter how good it may or may not be at this moment, or in the future." This is the classic lament of the loser, that the game is rigged against it by the company that rules its ecoystem. Everytime there's a new Microsoft operating system, the gang from Redmond tries to make features out of thriving third-party utilities. The utilities that survive, such as anti-virus services from Norton and others, are the ones that continue to advance beyond what Microsoft offers, making themselves vital.
While URL shortening is terribly useful for social networking—and Twitter in particular—the whole business isn't rocket science. The technology to make tr.im, bit.ly, shortn.me, and the host of others work is pretty damn basic. That's the reason why that host of others exists, and why everyone is jumping on the bandwagon trying to build their own service—Digg's being an obvious example.
The only way to stand out from that crowd is to be innovative. Nambu's team obviously didn't have the energy or insight to try to do this. Bit.ly may fail in trying to make URL shortening a business and not just a feature, but at least it's trying. Tr.im, in a flurry of sour-grape business fluster, has chosen to take its ball and go home, closing the operation, blinded by their jealousy of bit.ly. Its existing millions of links are safe until December 31st 2009, but after that the orphaned tr.im URLs will be a problem in Twitter's archives.
Nambu tried to sell tr.im, hoping someone would be tempted by its link archive and catchy URL. But no one wanted to buy it, apparently perceiving the brand as valueless. There's one remaining question to ask: If tr.im perceives the future as grim for URL shortening, what about all the other services out there? Will they succumb to the winning tie-up of Twitter and bit.ly? If they possess the same attitude as Nambu's leadership, then yes. But we hope this failure will serve as a wake-up call to the me-too URL shorteners to develop some novel and creative services to stand out as unique.