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Gnip, Betaworks create short URL seed bank

Emergency database will let dead URL shortening services--or at least their short URLs--come back to life.

In light of the near-shutdown of the actual closing of URL shortening services like URLTea,, and of the URL shorteners still standing may wonder what's going to happen to their favorite services if they, too, go belly-up.

On Friday, Gnip is announcing that it's releasing a public database that will give URL shortening companies a place where they can archive or escrow their short URL directories, in the event their services shut down. The database would provide a way for another company to take over the services of the closed URL shortening service and keep the mapping of short-to-real Web links alive.

The database will live at 301works, a site owned by Betaworks, which is not coincidentally an investor in, Twitter, and Tweetdeck.

The 301works site will not, at least at first, be a live short URL servicing company. Rather, it will be just a database that collects the mapping of short URLs from the companies that make them. Under circumstances agreed to by the URL shortening companies and the 301works admins, portions of the database may be released to third parties when certain conditions are met--like a site shutting down for good or suffering a period of sustained downtime.

In other words, the 301works site will not be enough to resurrect the URL mappings of a short URL site that folds. It's just a repository of the data that a still-standing URL shortener could download and add to its own system, to keep a collection of short URLs alive.

Gnip CEO Eric Marcoullier says it's a "break-glass-in-case-of-emergency" product.

But Marcoullier sees the escrow project as more than just an emergency bank for the URL maps. URL shortening services represent bottlenecks and vulnerable failure points. "These services are still somewhat fragile," said Marcoullier, who hopes that the creation of the 301works database will serve to "socialize these short URL companies into making these linkages available to the public domain. Our hope is that cool things will now occur, and that this will be a forcing function to the other companies (that don't use the 301works database)."

He is hoping that the URL shortening industry, such as it is, begins to come together around this service, and that perhaps the conversation leads to some consolidation or cooperation so that the services become more robust, scalable, and survivable.

Gnip is providing the database at no charge (which is appropriate--it's about the simplest data structure I could imagine, and it will be hosted on's cloud servers), but Marcoullier said his company will benefit from the exposure the 301works project provides. "We'll be a good industry citizen," he said.

Companies onboard for the launch announcement include shorteners Adjix,,, Cligs, and URLizer. The service is set to launch in a few weeks.

Further reading:
URL shortening is hot--but look before you leap
The Perils of Short Links