Technology: Putting web links in print? Size really does matter...

Here’s the problem. You need, for whatever unavoidable reason, to include a web link (aka, properly, a URL) in a story for print. But the link is horrendously long – it spills over one, two lines, and you know that anyone who tries to type it in from print is bound to get it wrong. What to do?

That’s where you need a URL shortening service such as Tinyurl (found at tinyurl.com – the ‘www’is optional). These do a single trick but do it really, really well: they take a long URL (as long as you like) and hand you back a shorter one, such as tinyurl.com/ygv8bt (which is 18 characters long, rather than the 22-character one it replaces – www.pressgazette.co.uk).

For every unique URL you plug in, it will throw back something beginning with tinyurl.com and then some alphanumeric characters after the slash. Then, when you put that URL into a browser, you’ll be automatically redirected to the original URL. No muss, no fuss.

It’s a neat trick that can make the difference between being three or four lines over in copy, and copyfit (or even having a couple of lines spare for stuff like crossheads). You can see a comparison of a few of the rival services at

notlong.com/links.

So, 18-character URLs for anything. It even works for YouTube links, which are very easy to mistype because they use both 0 (zero) and O (capital o), and 1 (one) and l (lower-case l), which are easy to mistake.

Redirection can get addictive, but it’s a fabulously easy thing to use, once you’ve got used to it (I’ve written a routine for InDesign which replaces a highlighted URL with its tinyurl form – we use it all the time at The Guardian). And for readers, it’s a good way to bridge the gap between print and web.

n I was fascinated by the revelation from the Dixons Store Group results the other day saying that people didn’t come rushing in to buy boxed upgrades of Microsoft’s new Vista version of Windows in January, or new PCs kitted out with Vista.

DSG was also ‘disappointed’at the level of ‘marketing support’– is that the same as advertising? – from Microsoft. Admit it, you can’t name three things that Vista does better than its XP predecessor, released in 2001 and last updated in 2004 (to ‘XP SP2″). That’s Microsoft’s marketing dollars not at work right there.

Although Microsoft will point you to garbillions of Vista licences sold, the fact remains that many corporations are ‘buying’it and then instantly sticking XP onto the machine instead. Dell began offering ‘backgrades’to XP in April to ordinary consumers (though it helps to say you’re a ‘small business’instead).

Is this the end of the line for Windows? Though Steve Ballmer, its chief (for Bill Gates is now just sitting in a lifeboat, thinking charitable thoughts about malaria vaccine) insists there’s more in the pipeline, one has to feel that the upgrade madness we used to suffer almost every two years is over. And just for the record, Apple’s next version of its OSX operating system comes out this week – the first such in two-and-a-half years. Expect to wait at least three for the next one.

n Amid all the cuts to news at the BBC, nobody’s paid much attention to the progress of its iPlayer – the program that will let you download and watch BBC programmes at any time. Do you think anyone’s actually using it? Are the teething problems ironed out? I suspect the (interlinked) answers are ‘no’and ‘no”: it uses a file-sharing system, but if too few people use it then you’ll wait forever for files to download. Unfortunately, it’s still easier – a term that’s only relative – to find the programmes through more widely-used file-sharing services like BitTorrent. How many technicians’ jobs could be saved by killing the iPlayer, then?

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