This evening I took some time to create a custom URL shortener, using the open source tool yourls. I’ve seen Tony Vincent use custom URLs in his tweets and at conferences for several years. Tony has setup the domain and website tonyv.me for his custom URLs. I setup wfryer.me. I won’t exhaustively detail all the steps I followed this evening to create this, but I will document them briefly in case you’re interested in creating a similar site and service.
Before sharing setup steps, here are a few reasons to consider creating and using your own URL shortener:
- Shortened URLs provide a handy way for people to get to your handouts and resources for specific lessons, PD or workshop sessions.
- It looks cool. (Seriously, it does, and it can be quite professional to use a custom URL shortener!)
- Some schools block URL shortener websites like bit.ly and tinyurl, so by using a custom shortener site you may increase accessibility for your links.
- People can quite easily and accidentally mis-type the characters which follow a randomly-generated shortened URL… and this can have a surprising result. (Taking them to a site you didn’t intend.) If people mis-type your shortened URL, as long as they get the domain right (wfryer.me in my case) they won’t get someone else’s website… at worst they’ll be redirected to another website I’ve personally shared in the past.
- The service provides interesting details about numbers of clicks, source countries for clicks, etc.
- The service won’t expire or go away, as could potentially happen with commercial services.
These were the main steps I followed to create my custom URL shortener this evening.
1. I registered the domain wfryer.me on GoDaddy for $9. I used the DNS addresses for my existing website with my web host when I registered the domain.
2. I added my new domain as an “add-on slot” to my hosting account with Siteground. Since I already pay for a VPS, this was free. There may be a cost for this depending on the terms of your hosting plan. See my recent 12 minute screencast on YouTube, “Create a subdomain for a website as an add-on slot” for specific details on these steps.
4. I used KompoZer (free) to create a basic, ‘placeholder’ website at the root of my wfryer.me site. Again, tonyv.me was my model. Like Tony I chose to include a Twitter widget. I created my graphic using Skitch. (free)
5. I used CPanel on my hosting account to create a new MySQL database with a user with full access rights. I noted these credentials (database name, user name and user password) and added them to the config.php file for yourls. This is explained in the README file which is included with the downloaded files. The process is very similar to a new self-hosted WordPress installation.
6. I visited the http://mysite.com/admin website and finished installation of yourls.
7. I installed the browser buttons for yourls in Chrome. These permit one click shortening and custom URL shortening (where you specify the name which follows your domain) to streamline this process.
8. I installed the WordPress plugin for yourls. Unfortunately I ran into a problem (documented here and here) with the plugin inexplicably generating hundreds of shortened links for past posts. Fortunately these were not tweeted out, but I did have to manually delete them all. I didn’t find a solution to the problem, so I deactivated the plugin and re-activated Twitter Tools which uses bit.ly. At some point I’d like to use yourls instead, but I’m not going to spend time troubleshooting this more tonight.
This is the dashboard view which Yourls provides. So far I’ve just shared three links, but it will be good to have access to my specific statistics when desired.
Of the reasons I highlighted initially to consider using a custom URL shortener service, #2 and #3 are the real big ones in my book. You do NOT want students in a class you’re teaching or participants in a PD session you’re leading to accidentally link to an offensive or inappropriate website because they mis-typed a random string of characters in a tinyurl.com or bit.ly address. Using a custom URL shortener can eliminate that possibility entirely. The accessibility issue is a big one as well.
What do you think of custom URL shorteners? The steps involved to create this are beyond those most teachers are going to want to follow, but it’s GREAT that open source software is available which can make this a “doable” process for people and organizations who want to follow it.
Many, MANY thanks to Tony Vincent for sharing so many great ideas and being such an inspiration as a teacher-leader. If you don’t already, follow Tony on Twitter and subscribe to his great blog, Learning in Hand. Also don’t miss his outstanding presentation for the 2010 K-12 Online Conference last year, “Project Based Learning in Hand.”
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