Shorter URLs

QR Code for GORecently we successfully registered an additional domain name – – for the University. Rather than simply using this as an additional alias for the main website addresses, we’re using it to provide a URL shortening service.

URL shortening services are nothing new – TinyURL was launched in 2002 – but while for years they were used to shorten web addresses in emails, with the advent of Twitter and its 140 character limits these services have gained new popularity.

These services do have some major problems however, notable, what happens if a service goes out of business either through running out of money or by the top level domain owner cancelling it? This has led many people to consider running their own service, and now that we have a nice short URL, we’re following suit.

We are using the popular YOURLS system, written in PHP with some custom plugins:

  • Lowercase URLs: we want short URLs to be case insensitive so that it doesn’t matter how people type them in
  • Top Level URLs keep their keyword for our main domain name, so maps to
  • For our own domain names we add in Google Analytics campaign keywords allowing us to determine where traffic comes from
  • URLs can be modified to include a source with just three extra characters which is then passed through as a Google Analytics medium
  • QR codes are available for all short URLs by simply adding .qr to the keyword
  • Certain keywords relate to the type of content, for example undergraduate courses have been seeded with their UCAS code, e.g. is BSc Computing

This service is currently in beta for use with the new prospectus but we’ll be making use of it further in the near future, for example exposing short URLs for pages within GO.

Let us know if you have any ideas for other things we can do with this service!

QR Treasure Hunt

Yesterday, Learning Services launched their Code Breaker Challenge – aimed at getting new (and returning) students to find their way around the facilities and try out a bit of new technology along the way.

It makes use of QR Codes – 2D barcodes that can be scanned with a smartphone.  The payload of a QR code can be quite flexible – it can contain text, a web address, contact information or even send a text message.  In this case it launches a web page on the Learning Services blog – chosen because it’s already mobile friendly for a number of common devices.

There are four locations to scan – start in the entrance to the University Library.  Give it a go and you could win a £50 Argos voucher.

From my point of view this is a really interesting trial. Awareness of QR codes – while certainly not universal – is growing and as I’ve mentioned before on this blog we’re now in a position where significant numbers of students have modern phones with free or cheap data.  QR codes in themselves are not a solution to any particular problem we have but they have some interesting potential uses in connecting physical and virtual information.

Many companies are starting to use them on posters, cans of pop and all sorts of other places – the 2d code blog has some great examples of QR codes popping up in unusual places.

There are loads of QR code readers available for lots of different devices – i-nigma suggested on the LS blog is one of the better ones for iOS (sorry, I’ve only tried on iPhones!) but to find one for your phone type into your mobile’s browser to get suggestions.