Personal URL shortener

Back in 2009 I wrote a post about creating my own url shortener. I didn’t get very far, partly due to the challenge of how to create the short url codes, and partly due to my development philosophy of having an idea, musing about it, and never getting anywhere with it. Though I did install some code Ben Charlton has written and set it up as u.nostuff.org.

Part of the drive to do this was a bizarre feeling of guilt when using ‘short urls’ from the main shortener services. Each short url I created would mean we – as a userbase – were one step closer to the URLs being one digit longer (i.e. when that service ran out of free letter/number combinations with the current number of digits). Short urls were a scarce good. Did I really need this short URL? Worse, useful services such as twitterfeed use a short url each time they add something to twitter, even if most of those links would never be followed.

However there should be no need for all of us to be using the same small set of url shorteners, if we used our own, or one for a particular group of people, or for a particular service, then we would be free to use them as we pleased. What we (internet users at large, and especially twitter users) needed was lots of URL shorteners, each able to produce short codes.

Back in April this year I came across YOURLS, an open source simple URL shortener you can install on to your site [main website | blog with new releases | Google code]. This fitted the bill exactly. Installing it was easy on my dreamhost account.

Now I just needed the short domain name. I came up with a few catchy/clever domain names, but quickly found that two digit domains were pricey or just not allowed for purchasing. especially those such as .im, ly etc.

It would have to be three digits, and if I couldn’t get or afford ‘catchy’ why not just go for something completely random? After all I just needed to remember it.

I also decided that I would buy from my existing domain name provider, rather than signing up with another organisation, especailly some of the dodgy looking ones providing sole access to unusual country top level domain names.. I also wanted to use a country that was stable and unlikely to be awkward with renewing the domain or changing the rules (sn.im didn’t work for a while while the owners argued with the Isle of Man registrar). Using 123reg, at the time the cheapest three digit domains were to be found  (amongst a couple of others) in Belgium, .be. The only concern being as the two halves of Belgium seem to drift further apart from each other, there is even talk of one day Belgium splitting up (and I bet they wouldn’t even think if my domain name during the split, well I really).

So I ended up with xd5.be. No good reason. I used a combination with an x as I figured fewer organisations will have an acronym with an x in it, the number in the name may help in that respect as well.

The solution works well, with the usual browser bookmarklet (I’ve always shortened urls before pasting them to a twitter client). One thing I did find was that I was reluctant to use it at first as I was aware I was creating the shortest urls available on this domain (i.e. one digit code) and felt the need to preserve them for stuff that was important. Now I am on to two digits I am more care free! YOURLS allows you to choose between just using lowercase or including uppercase digits as well, I went for the former while the latter will obviously provide far more combinations of characters. I could also install additional copies of the software on to subdomains, e.g. a.xd5.be b.xd5.be, these are still seven characters in total, four less than tinyurl.com. drop me a line if you would like one of these.

In all, I think it is worth doing, it keeps you in control of your links and the software you are using.

Dreamhost and nostuff

Well nostuff has been with Dreamhost for a while now, and they are responsible for running the dream. the dream was the ideal of nostuff, which was, ummm, no stuff. They gave me so many goodies that I have ended up with, well, stuff.

For the techies, they give shell access, cron and a powerful web-based control panel and good control over the domain.

Example: I only have one domain associated with my account (i could have more). but I can set up sub-domains easily. Each can be anything you dream of: a redirect, a directory of your main site, something completely separate, have it’s own (unlimited) email addresses (hello@whatever.nostuff.org), have it’s onw google apps etc. Very impressive list of options. The whole setup is very flexible, so if you want to do something unusual with your mail setup or whatever, then you probably can. It’s also the little things, it’s not just that I can setup a WordPress blog with one click, but I can setup unlimited number, at any domain, sub-domain, directory and database I choose, and setup with a good selection of themes and plugins.

This evening I have installed moodle (1 minute), setup words.nostuff.org to point to da blog, setup google apps on nostuff.org (start.nostuff.org, docs.nostuff.org and loads more) and upgraded two blogs to the latest version.

So this is one big advert for dreamhost.

Must find complaints… hmmm, having a web host running servers in West Cost US time when you are in the UK can be a slight pain, and there can be a tiny lag at times (I think). Though my last host was a very simple affair I was never aware of my website being down. Dreamhost have had a few problems leading to downtime, and they seem to take a while to fully resolve it (they do follow up with blog postings explaining why, but of course swear a strange one off occurance caused it and it will never happen again).

But that’s all nickpicking.

All in all, very impressed, and glad I moved my site here.

Now, having written all this (and only after writing all this), I’ve just had the idea of linking to this sign up link and mentioning the sign up code NOSTUFF (using the code should mean YOU get $20 off, think of what you can do with all that cash). Using either means I get a tiny bit of cash off my next payment to Dreamhost, so if this tempts you at all, then hey I am not above whoring. Heck even if you don’t want a hosted domain service, perhaps you’re looking for a new dishwasher, or car insurance or smack, then sign up here, this is what you want. Just enter that promo code and enter you credit card details and do it before thinking about it.

Welcome back

In August I signed up with Dreamhost.

Until now I have used Freedom2surf’s web hosting service. I originally signed up with them as they seemed a good company (and still do, though now owned by pipex) and were cheap, £25 a year. When I first started using them they transferred my domain to them (it was all a bit new to me so I just presumed this was a required step) and their domain name costs were not cheap (£10). A few years later I wanted email as well (another £25), and the cost started going up. The service was stable, but I was started to need more. They offered just one database, not much when you are playing around with different software, such as Joomla, running WordPress and trying to experiment with your own silly web apps which require a DB, plus the quote for the database was tiny (10mb). Plus their web stats were crappy, and the log files were fiddly (kept for a few days on a secure website, no ftp and wget didn’t seem able to get them which made automating difficult, plus each file would download with the same filename by default).

During the summer I ended up at the GoDaddy website. I had heard bad things about them, but they did seem to offer an awful lot for a very cheap price. But I wouldn’t get that warm cosy feeling having my website hosted by them, so I waited. Dreamhost were recommended but not the cheapest. However after seeing just how much you do get (shell account, cron, etc), and that it would still be cheaper that my current setup, I went for it.

So far impressed, a lot of nice things and a lot of stuff (databases, email addresses, easy to get logs, easy to upgrade WordPress, etc). There does seem to be an awful lot of login requests when using their backend, each service and area seems to have it’s own username and password system, but this isn’t a huge problem. Plus I seemed to join them at a bad time, and there has been some downtime of late.

nostuff.org has been down for the last couple of weeks, and this is just down to me. I tried to transfer the actually domain across, though the move was rejected (I may not have set the new DNS servers up right before putting in the transfer request). I then basically did nothing for a few weeks. I finally got around to it yesterday, the transfer this time went fine and now everything seems good again.

So, hopefully this is still on some of your RSS feeds and you haven’t all deserted me! Welcome back.