URL shorteners are a useful tool for shortening long Web addresses. They're also the source of such nightmarishly ugly addresses as "http://bit.ly/8g4wsd", which grace the feeds of link-crazy Twitter-holics the world over. That particular address comes from Bit.ly, the current reigning champion after the company ousted TinyURL as Twitter's default shortening service. (There have also been other, less fortunate imitators, such as the GOP's abused "Conservative URL Shortener.")

Now Google and Facebook are throwing their hats in the ring with their own services, while Bit.ly steps up its game by allowing publishers to build tiny, customized codes for big brands, such as nyti.ms for the New York Times. Who's pulling ahead in the race to the shortest? Techpundits are ambivalent, giving the advantage on sheer weight to Google, but noting that Bit.ly's tricks may allow it to stay at the head of the pack.

  • Thanks Google, But We Hardly Needed Another One, writes David Coursey at PC World. "While the world doesn't need a new URL shortener, we may someday be happy Google started offering one as the need for such services continues to grow. If nothing else, the goo.gl URLs will be a constant reminder of the company gives us goodies."
  • Goo.gl Bound to Be a Threat, says a blogger at Search Engine Roundtable. "Google hasn't yet opened it up for use outside of the Toolbar or FeedBurner, but trust me, it will be used plenty that way and shared tremendously. Google said, "if the service proves useful, we may eventually make it available for a wider audience in the future." So, how long do you give it? A month, two? Many just feel bad for the url shortening services out there."
  • It's the Data Collection That Matters, writes Leena Rao at TechCrunch. Facebook and Google are lethal foes to Bit.ly, but in the end it's the data that matters. "Up until now, bit.ly has moved quickly to become the standard shortener. But the sheer volume of short links which both Facebook and Google can produce could soon overwhelm the number of bit.ly links. It's the data behind the links, however, which is valuable. Whoever can gather the most unified view of all shortened links will end up winning."
  • Where's the Business Model? asks Joseph Tartakoff at PaidContent. He notes that Bit.ly has raised doubts that it could monetize its service, even as the biggest player in the arena. "Even before Google's entry into the market there were already questions about whether there was any money to be made in URL shortening. Tr.im owner Nambu, for instance, said in August that it intended to shut down its service exactly for that reason."
  • Bit.ly Has Advantage With Big Brands, suggests Erik Schonfeld at TechCrunch. Bit.ly's advantage, he writes, is that it allows big media outfits to get around scrambled URLs.  "The appeal for publishers to use their own branded short URLs is that it acts like a verified link. Consumers who are familiar with the brand can learn to trust those links. In contrast, anything can be behind the generic short URLs, although bit.ly is taking steps to fight spam and malware abuse."
  • ...But Be Wary of Dying Services, writes Ian Paul at PC World. "There are annoying risks to having all these shortened URLs floating around out there. Earlier this year, the link shortening service tr.im announced it would be shutting down its service by the end of December prompting concerns that many tr.im links would simply go dead. The service quickly reopened due to public backlash, and is now in the process of converting into an open source project."