Shorten your own dang URLs

In my last Project Reclaim post, I talked about using WordPress as a Twitpic-like personal mobile photo service. When the ultimate goal of the photoblog is to send a tweet, it’s almost always necessary to use a URL shortener. But trusting your URL shortening to a free service is a dangerous move. If that service goes out of business, or if they decide to take down the database for some reason or other, the links in those tweets will break. (This problem is delightfully called “linkrot”.)

So, while URL shorteners are sometimes necessary, they’re also an obvious instance for reclaiming your data. Moving to your own URL shortener means that you control the domain, you control the content, you can back up the database however you’d like, etc.

I went with a piece of software called YOURLS. It’s written by Ozh Richard, a WordPress developer, and there’s a slick WP plugin that makes it a great choice for use with my WP photoblog. Here’s a short walkthrough of how I set it up.


  • Get a domain. Something short is nice, obviously. I just started typing two- and three-letter domains into my domain registrar’s search box (I use Dynadot), which showed me the top-level domains available, until I found one that was easy to look at and remember ( Make sure you do whatever setup your registrar requires to get the domain working – probably as simple as setting the nameservers to your host’s NS addresses.
  • Install YOURLS. The instructions provided at the YOURLS site are pretty concise, but here’s the gist: upload the software to the server, create a new database, copy the sample configuration file to user/config.php, and fill in the configuration file with the proper database info, etc. You can get more YOURLS config info here.
  • Configure an Apache virtual host, if necessary. If your hosting provider doesn’t have cPanel or some other tool that easily lets you point your new short domain to a subdirectory, you’ll need to do it manually by creating a new Apache virtual host file and activating that site. This website has a pretty good explanation. But essentially, just copy the default configuration in sites-available (likely at /etc/apache2/sites-available) and change the info in the VirtualHost section.
  • Install the WordPress plugin. The YOURLS: WordPress to Twitter plugin is easy to install and set up. Once the plugin’s installed, go to Dashboard > Settings > YOURLS and fill in the necessary information. Setting up the Twitter bit is a pain, thanks to Twitter’s requirement that you get a developer’s key, but it’s easy to do. Just follow the on-screen instructions.

At this point, everything should be set up. Send a test post or two to try it out.

Bonus! Use me with Tweetdeck

YOURLS has a REST API that can be used with a bunch of applications. For instance, I’ve configured my TweetDeck installation to do its URL auto-shortening with Go to Settings > Services and choose Other from the URL shortener dropdown. Your endpoint will look something like You’ll have to replace with your own URL, of course, and the XXXXXXX signature with a custom YOURLS signature password. You can get it from the YOURLS admin screen ( > Secure passwordless API call)

Here’s the great thing. There’s no reason why a couple people can’t share a single YOURLS installation. In fact, I’ll put my money where my mouth is, and start my own URL shortening co-op. I’ll give usernames/passwords to to the first couple friends who want in. Send an email to boonebgorges at gmail if (1) you are my friend, (2) you want in on, and (3) you promise to actually use it and break the habit.

Kicking the Twitpic habit with WordPress

Twitpic and its ilk are pretty convenient, especially when they’re integrated into mobile Twitter apps. But as recent articles have shown, the terms of service of such services can be downright icky. Twitpic may have changed its tune a few days after the outcry, but honestly, if it takes an outcry to make a company not be evil, then maybe you shouldn’t be dealing with that company.

This is a perfect little side project for Project Reclaim, and something of a no-brainer. Twitpic etc are stripped-down publishing platforms. I already run a couple installations of a non-stripped-down publishing platform, namely WordPress. So I set up my own photo blog in just a couple of minutes.

I already have an instance of WordPress Multisite that I use for a bunch of different purposes. So setting up the blog itself was easy – I went to my Network Admin panel and clicked Add Site. If you’ve never worked with WordPress Multisite before, you should know that it’s already built into the WordPress installation that you may already have. You can read more about how to turn on Multisite at the WordPress Codex, or you can watch a somewhat out-of-date but otherwise charming video of a handsome and engaging speaker talking on this very subject.

Then I found a theme that looks nice with photographs. I didn’t look very far. My favorite visual theme has, for some time, been Allan Cole’s AutoFocus. In the future, I’ll probably build a child theme that has a few tweaks appropriate for my mobile photo blog, but it works pretty nicely out of the box.

Then I fired up my WordPress Android app (there’s one for the iPhone too) and connected it to my new WordPress blog. (You’ll have to enable XML-RPC on your WP blog if you want to use the mobile app.) I tweaked a few of the blog setting in my app, so that the photo would be linked after I published it, and the thumbnails would be of an appropriate size.

Finally, I got a WordPress plugin that sends tweets every time a post is published on the photo blog. I’m using YOURLS (more on this in an upcoming Project Reclaim post), but there are lots of them out there that are freely available. Just search the WordPress plugin repository.

Now, when I want to tweet a picture, here’s what I do. Open the WP app. Create a new post. Click the Media button. Take the photo. Add the content of my tweet in the Title field. Publish. (Don’t have to do it in this order, of course.) Totally painless – and I don’t have to worry about any terms of service. Yippee!

For more reading, here’s another blog post about the very same idea.

Related posts:

  1. BuddyPress and the YOURLS: WordPress to Twitter plugin
  2. Shorten your own dang URLs
  3. Enabling Popularity Contest for WordPress networkwide use