Google Patent on URL Compression and the Mobile Web

What may be Google’s third most important URL shortening service got its own web site a few days ago. If you’ve used Twitter, chances are a long URL made it hard to fit your message and a link within the limited amount of space available. You may have turned to Bit.ly or another service to shrink the size of that URL. Google brought out a limited version of it’s URL shortening service in December of 2009, and has been expanding the Google services that it could be used with.

But, there are other places where Google has likely been using shorter URLs for a longer time. For instance, there’s a good chance that Google has been using compressed URls for a while when performing Link Graph Analysis, so that it could consider more pages in a link graph of the Web at one time when computing things like PageRank.

Google was granted a patent this week on another kind of shorter URLs, intended to make the mobile web a little faster by compressing URLs to be displayed on mobile devices. The basic premise behind these shorter URLs is to increase the ability of people using mobile devices to access the Web to experience the Web more like people using desktop computers.

While URL shortening programs may make microblogging services more convenient to many of us, there are areas of the world where many people access the Web primarily through phones. Members of the Google Mobile team have been involved in making the Web more accessible for people from around the world, including places like Uganda where the Grameen Foundation and Google have been working together. The following interview describes how that service is being developed:

data="http://www.youtube.com/v/xYaCXTLw12M?fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0&hd=1">

(Note: Terry Van Belle, seen in the video above, is one of the inventors listed on the new Google patent.)

Google’s new patent doesn’t shorten URLs for people to use in SMS messages or on microblogging platforms, but rather involves changing the underlying code on web pages presented to people so that when they access those pages, they use less bandwidth as well as less memory on their mobile devices. For example, if a web page has the following links on it:

<a href=”http://www.firstsite.com/directory1/page1.html”>Page 1</a>
<a href=”http://www.firstsite.com/directory1/page2.html”>Page 2</a>
<a href=”http://www.firstsite.com/directory1/page3.html”>Page 3</a>
<a href=”http://www.secondsite.com/pageA.html”>Page A</a>

Those links might be rewritten, and a “base href” might be added in the head section of the page for links, as follows:

<base href=”http://www.server.com/n?u=[dictionary]012345601237601234860193A6″ />

<a href=”/0123456″>Page 1</a>
<a href=”/0123486″>Page 2</a>
<a href=”/012376″>Page 3</a>
<a href=”/0193A6″>Page A</a>

The patent is:

Compressing hyperlinks in a hyperlink-based document
Invented by Steve Kanefsky, Alex Nicolaou, and Terry Van Belle
Assigned to Google Inc.
US Patent 7,809,697
Granted October 5, 2010
Filed: November 9, 2007

Abstract

A computer-implemented method can include accessing a network-accessible document that is formatted according to a hypertext markup language and that has a plurality of hyperlinks; producing a transcoded document from the network-accessible document; and providing the transcoded document to a computing device.

Producing the transcoded document can include concatenating two or more of the plurality of hyperlinks to form a compression seed, compressing the compression seed with a compression algorithm to form a compressed seed, storing the compressed seed as a base hyperlink in the transcoded document, and compressing each of the plurality of hyperlinks.

Compressing each hyperlink can include concatenating each hyperlink with the compression seed, compressing the concatenated hyperlink and compression seed to form a seed portion corresponding to the compression seed and a link portion corresponding to the hyperlink, extracting the seed portion, and substituting in the transcoded document the link portion for the hyperlink.

The patent goes into detail on how URLs can be compressed for use on web pages, including pages from content providers, search results pages, and more.

While many places that rely upon phones as a primary way of connecting to the Web rely upon services such as SMS, steps like this one to compress URLs on pages may lead to a greater ability to access the Web directly in places like Uganda.

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23 thoughts on “Google Patent on URL Compression and the Mobile Web”

  1. I thought the situation in countries like Uganda was that there was a reliance on SMS because while cell phones are commonplace, full internet access was rare because not many people have computers (or smartphones). How could this new url shortener for mobile address this problem?

  2. They always come up with new and good ideas everyday just to make surfing the net easier and more user-friendly, using computers or mobile phones. I say this is a nice move.

  3. The thing is, and I’m sure you’ve thought about this Bill, that it’s not only in places like Uganda etc that users mainly access the Web via mobile. When microblogging enters the equation, consider how much time people all over the world microblog on their mobile device. An effective URL shortening system that can be conveniently implemented on a given mobile will come in handy everywhere.

  4. Any improvements to optimise websites for mobile devices is a good thing in my book. I don’t believe websites should be dumbed down for mobility but rather clever’d up. This kind of compression is a good idea and deserves some kudos, if even because the patent was filed in 2007.

  5. Google has also been shortening URLs in Google Groups post, probably this is also helpful for mobile web. I wouldn’t be surprised though if their stand has advantages beyond compression.

  6. Hi Paul,

    The biggest impediment in places like Uganda is probably the lack of a telecommunications infrastructure that makes it easy for people to connect to the Web through cables to desktop computers. As for a lack of smartphones, I’ve been reading that the situation seems to be changing to a degree as high speed connections to Africa, and through Africa are growing. Chances are though, that people connecting to the web in Africa will be doing so primarily from wireless connections, and avoiding as may costs as possible of building a wired infrastructure.

    Chances are that most people connecting to the internet in Uganda will be doing so through SMS, but I’ve been reading that 3G networks are catching on there in a big way.

  7. Hi Andrew,

    I think it’s pretty smart, too. It doesn’t have the visibility of an URL shortening service that one can use to post links in a twitter, or even use in an SMS message, but it helps lay the groundwork to make it more likely that more people will adopt smartphones.

  8. Hi Dan,

    Good point. Another thought – I would expect that the kind of URL compression that might be taking place for people viewing web pages on Mobile phones might also be useful for people connecting to the Web using desktop computers as well, in the future, especially with things like the ability in HTML 5 to make it easier to embed videos on web pages.

  9. Hi Ray,

    I agree completely. The Mobile web presents some serious challenges when it comes to trying to provide a rich user experience to people using a handheld. I do really appreciate that the Google Mobile team has been anticipating ways to make that experience better.

  10. Hi Mark,

    Their shortening service spread out to a lot of Google’s different services before it became available publicly to everyone. I found myself a little surprised at how many places they implemented it first.

    A faster Web doesn’t always mean bigger pipes – it looks like you can get the same result by shrinking your messages.

  11. Just responding to Bill Slawski’s comment regarding 3G penetration in Africa. I’m involved with a digital agency in South Africa where we’ve seen an explosion in digital activity in the last 12 months – better bandwitdth, 4G networks coming online .. Facebook usage growing by 100% annually .. ok still small numbers, but PC-based internet connection grew from 4m to 5.5m in a year, active facebook membership increased from 1.5m to over 3m .. and cheap smartphones coming into the market are opening the internet up to a massive new audience. Great place to be at the moment!

  12. Love the blog – certainly a key factor for us here in Africa. We’ve now hit the point where more people have internet access via cellphones than via desktops, so short urls and predictive text are a key factor in SEO

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  14. Aside from having the Google Brand, the URL shortener doesn’t offer anything over the competition. With Bit.ly, you only need to click on the shortened URL for it to be copied, with the Google version you have to highlight, right click and then copy. With those unnecessary clicks, I really don’t know who is going to use it (over anything else out there).

  15. In my opinion mobile media is going to blow up even more in the next few years. No matter where we are we’ll have access to a mobile device which expands beyond simple handsets. iPads and other similar devices are mobile devices as well. This is why mobile media training will become crucial to businesses looking to succeed.

    It’s clear that Google is enhancing the mobile experience and I’m sure we’ll see a lot more developments such as this.

    Thanks!
    Joe

  16. Hi Charlie,

    Thanks. Internet access through mobile devices is growing at a tremendous rate everywhere. I think it’s a great that Google is focusing upon improving mobile services in places like Uganda, where its the primary way that people do connect. People involved in SEO who aren’t paying attention to the mobile web should start paying more attention, or they are going to miss out.

  17. Hi David,

    Thanks for giving us an update on just how much the mobile web is growing in Africa. It certainly makes sense to leapfrog past 3G to 4G if possible, as well. It does sound exciting to be involved in that kind of growth.

  18. Hi Steve,

    I wasn’t really focusing upon the URL shortening service that Google is offering as much as the URL compression that it might use when showing web pages over phones. I started my post saying that Google’s URL shortening service may only be the third most important kind of URL compression that Google is likely doing because the kind of URL compression described in their patent aims at bringing a richer Web experience to people who might access the Web through the fastest growing market accessing the web these days – smart phone users.

  19. Thank you, Joe.

    Those are very good points. I wrote above that SEOs who aren’t paying attention to the mobile web are limiting themselves, but I think I should expand that to say the same thing for designers and developers and site owners, and anyone else who works to make web pages better, more usable, and more effective.

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