There has been quite a bit of recent activity in my 2ze.us project since I first released it nearly a year ago. My intent was not to become a competitor with bit.ly, is.gd, or anyone else in the URL-shortening arena. I created the site as a way for me to learn more about Google's AppEngine. It didn't take very long to get it up and running, and it seemed to work fairly well.
AppEngine and Extensions
I was able to basically leave the site alone on AppEngine for several months--through about September 2009. In that time, I came up with a Firefox extension to make its use more convenient.
The extension allows you to quickly get a shortened URL for the page you're currently looking at, and a couple of context menu items let you get a short URL for things like specific images on a page. Also included in the extension is a preview for 2ze.us links. The preview can tell you the title and domain of the link's target. It can tell you how much smaller the 2ze.us URL is compared to the full URL. Finally, it displays how many times that particular 2ze.us link has been clicked.
That as all fine and dandy. It was the second Firefox extension I had ever written, and it's still running strong. In June or July of 2009, I started working on a little program to make it easier for me to interact with Twitter the way I wanted to. This was a great opportunity for me to incorporate 2ze.us into the application so any URL I wanted to post to Twitter would automatically be shortened for me, using my own shortener.
Porting to WebFaction And PHP
Anyway, around the end of September 2009, I noticed that there were a lot of problems with 2ze.us. It was slow and sometimes completely unresponsive. Certain URLs would redirect to their full URLs, while others wouldn't. The Firefox extension stopped working nicely. Oh yeah, and AppEngine rolled back to a previous revision of the code without me telling it to. That's when everything just died. It didn't take long for me to decide to migrate my project from AppEngine onto my awesome WebFaction hosting.
At this point, I was faced with a small dilemma: keep the code in Python, or port it to PHP. I opted to port it over to PHP, because I didn't want all of the overhead of a full Django instance for a site that needed to be very zippy. And I was unacquainted with other Python options.
By early October 2009, I had managed to turn the project into a PHP beast, running on Apache. It was a lot more responsive than AppEngine ever let 2ze.us be. There were a few bumps along the road, what with the extension and Twitter client relying on various parts of the site. Eventually it got to a point where I could just let it sit and work.
Sometime around the end of December, I decided to write another extension for 2ze.us, only for Google Chrome and Chromium this time. This extension isn't quite as feature-packed as its Firefox brother, but it gets the job done.
Shortly after "completing" the Chromium extension, I had what seemed like a pretty original idea. Who knows if it really is, but I still haven't seen another tool quite like the one that I made as a result of this idea. I thought, "Now, why should I need to install an extension in each Web browser I use on each computer I use? Is there a better way?"
The answer came quickly: a standalone, desktop application. Write one program that handles shortening URLs for you. My laziness told me to make a program that monitors your system clipboard for URLs. If a URL is detected, try to shorten it, and update the clipboard contents in place. Boom. Done. All extensions become useless beyond things like the URL preview (which is very useful, imo).
The next question I asked was, "Do I make it platform-dependent? Should I stick it to the majority of computer users and write my tool for Linux only? For OSX only? For, uh... Windows only?" Again, an easy question to answer. Support them all or don't even bother writing the application.
A week's worth of midnight hacking saw the birth of Clip2Zeus 1.0a. It's a cross-platform compatible desktop application that does exactly what I just mentioned. When it's running and detects a URL on your system clipboard, it will try to shorten it and update it in your clipboard. If you copy a block of text, the application will only modify the URLs in that block of text--meaning the block of text will still be in your clipboard, but it will have shorter URLs.
I use the program every day at work (on OSX). It's been very fun for me to see a short URL any time I copy a nasty URL to my clipboard. Imagine that; I'm a big fan of my own work...
Lately, I've noticed that the site was getting kind of slow again. Sometimes it would take several seconds for Clip2Zeus to shorten URLs in my clipboard, when it was normally instantaneous. Every once in a while, Clip2Zeus would completely fail to connect to the website.
One of my friends has asked me a lot of questions about the Tornado framework in the past months. I had read a few things about Tornado when it was open-sourced last year, but I didn't really feel the need to dabble with it. These questions prompted me to tinker a little.
Last night I re-ported 2ze.us to Python, using the Tornado framework this time. So far I'm very impressed with its responsiveness. The framework offers a lot of neat little utilities, and it is very fast (as reported by dozens of other reputable sources).
On top of the speed increase that came with the transition to Tornado, my RAM usage on WebFaction has come down by nearly 100MB. Just by turning off the one Apache-backed website. Now I'm nowhere near my RAM cap! Wahoo!!
Enough rambling. Like I said at the beginning of this article, a lot has been happening with this project in the past year. I didn't even think about all of the time I put into projects related to my simple little side project. Looking back, I'm quite satisfied with how things have unfolded.
Here are some simple statistics for 2ze.us. Since March 2009...
- 5,252 URLs have been shortened using 2ze.us
- 2ze.us links have been clicked 198,267 times
- 315,951 URL characters have been turned into 11,532 characters
In April 2009...
- 217 URLs were shortened
- 2ze.us links were clicked 617 times
In February 2010...
- 1,182 URLs were shortened
- 2ze.us links were clicked 32,830 times
Not too shabby for a side project.