Goo.gl, also known as Google URL Shortener, was released in 2009 for Google Toolbar (a search toolbar for web clients) and Google Feedburner (a tool allowing bloggers to send their content feed to their email subscribers). The following year the service was launched as a separate website.
URLs can become quite lengthy and complicated at times which makes processing or sharing them quite bothersome. That is where tools like Goo.gl step in. Users can take the original, sometimes several lines long and full of random character URL, and turn it into something much shorter and readable.
The new URLs are user-friendly and can be easily shared via printed media, be sent as an SMS or email, etc. Using shortened URLs is cheaper in media where there’s a limit on how many characters can be used or sent, as e.g. in most SMS services.
The simplified format also makes it easier for developers to do analytics with the URLs.
In other words, most URLs are generated for machines. URL shortening tools like Goo.gl turn them into something a human can understand.
Goo.gl was quite a successful and useful service for nearly a decade. However, the world of technology changes fast, and Google has always worked hard on adapting its products.
As a representative of the tech giant pointed out in the shut-down announcement in 2018, there had been numerous URL-shortening tools coming out since 2009 and the way users and developers interact with online content had changed as well.
That is why Google decided to discontinue the support for the Goo.gl tool, as announced on their blog. New users couldn’t create short links starting April 13, 2018. Registered users could still use the service till March 30, 2019, provided they already had existing short URLs. They also had until that time to save their data and migrate to another tool. After the deadline, the already existing links remained functional and led to the desired destination.
Google also made sure to suggest alternatives to users. They promoted their new Firebase Dynamic Links (FDL) tool (more on that below). Users were advised, though, that the existing URLs wouldn’t be automatically transferred to the new system – it had to be done manually by those interested in using FDL. For the rest, Google suggested using other URL shorteners like Bitly and Ow.ly.
So, why did Google prefer investing time and resources in FDL instead of in Goo.gl?
FDL is a tool that isn’t so much about making URLs shorter and simpler. Instead, it deals with newer demands on the market – to make URLs work as intended on all platforms.
Google’s new tool focuses on an issue with URLs known as “deep links”. Deep links are basically URLs that lead the user to a specific part of a website, and not necessarily its home page.
Deep links were created when users on the internet handled content on a computer and through a web browser. During the past decade, mobile devices have been getting more and more popular every year. By 2018, when Google decided to shift its focus to a new service, online activity had moved predominantly to mobile platforms. That caused issues where deep linking was concerned - both for users and developers.
As explained in a YouTube video from Firebase, deep-linked content became unpredictable across platforms. Firebase’s Dynamic Links are supposed to solve this problem. They allow developers to ensure end-users could access the correct content depending on whether they view it on iOS, Android, or a web browser.
Dynamic links allow for easier and better analytical tracking, marketing, and customization. For example, developers can decide whether to push users to download their app when visiting their site.
Without a doubt, the shift to FDL signifies a shift in what kind of users Google is targeting. The tech giant is no longer focused on just simplifying URL sharing for the ordinary user, but rather on creating a tool for businesses and developers.
FDL is a free tool, but at the same time, it's linked to a greater set of Firebase tools that can be charged. If successful, Google would set new standards in the backend of the World Wide Web while potentially profiting from the overall reach of the service.