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Google lets apps tap into URL shortner

Third-party software such as Twitter clients now can use Google's service for shortening Web addresses.

Google's Web address shortener
Google's Web address shortener screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Google took a somewhat arcane but important step yesterday in improving its URL-shortening service, making it available not just through the Web but through third-party software.

Google announced the application programming interface (API) yesterday. That makes it possible, for example, to let software such as TweetDeck shorten Web addresses to more easily fit within Twitter's 140-character constraints.

As with other services such as, the service can share data about the expansion of the URLs. That's useful for companies that want to know how many people clicked a link in some tweet, for example.

"You can shorten and expand URLs using the API, as well as fetch your history and analytics," Ben D'Angelo of the URL-shortening team said in a blog post. "You could use these features for a wide variety of applications, enabling behaviors ranging from auto-shortening within Twitter or Google Buzz clients to running regular jobs that monitor your usage statistics and traffic patterns."

Google launched the service to provide what it expects to be a reliable URL-shortening service. Although many other services have sprung up, fueled by Twitter in large measure, others have fallen by the wayside. Unless somebody else picks up the task of running the servers that handle the translation, links with a discontinued service stop working, a Web affliction called linkrot.

URL shortening comes with some intrinsic risks as Web addresses with branded domain names that people can recognize are replaced by an obscure series of characters. Google hopes to ameliorate that problem, though.

"We're continuing to work on several usability improvements and to make our auto-detection of spammy or malicious content even more robust," D'Angelo said.