We’re not interested in building things that already exist, so before writing our own link shortener, we tried to find out whether a privacy-minded tool already existed. So when we found Shlink, an open source URL shortener written by software developer Alejandro Celaya, we decided to use it. Shlink has functionality similar to Bitly’s but is designed to run on one’s own server. Our self-hosted Shlink server takes care of most of the heavy lifting—keeping track of our short URLs and redirecting them to the longer original article URLs.

For example, when you click on mrkup.org/amazon-brands, our Shlink server is what sends you to https://themarkup.org/amazons-advantage/2021/10/14/amazon-puts-its-own-brands-first-above-better-rated-products.

Shlink also includes a feature that avoids tracking our visitors by IP address. When we were testing out the software, we discovered a bug that meant IP addresses were being tracked anyway and logged a request with Celaya to fix it. We appreciated how seriously Celaya took the request, and he fixed the bug in a day. 

The software part that we’ve built on top of Shlink’s URL shortener is a WordPress plugin we’re releasing called Smol Links. The plugin lets our editors create and manage short URLs from our existing WordPress CMS, a user interface they are already familiar with.