Friday, September 4, 2009

Hotlinks External Page Viewer

I first heard about twitter in 2007 while listening to a Ruby On Rails podcast. It took a while, but I finally got on board, mainly as a result of the mandatory SEO stuff required for my current project. So, I'm now all a twitter.

Twitter's 140 character limit leads to a mandatory link for almost every post. Some links are huge, but with the help of or you can hash down your URL to a very manageable size. At the same time, the link reduction sites allow you to track the number of hits the link has received.

There are a couple of companies that have mashed up the URL reducers with the ability to display a personalized reference at the top of the target page. So, If I tweet about Hillary Duff's new utube video I would be able to display a header that includes a link to my site at the top of the page. Rather than use one of the off the shelf products, I decided to build my own, mainly because 1) it was trivial to implement, and 2) I (and my customer) wanted custom graphics displayed on the banner without the third party interference.

So, here is a sample of what I mean. The original tweet would look a bit like this: "check out Hillary Duff's new utube thingy here:". When the tweet recipient clicks on the link, they see the video as described, but they also see the Rain City Software banner at the top of the page, complete with links to my web site and twitter account. Go ahead, give it a try.

As it turns out, this is very simple to do with a simple iframe to display the target URL. The banner is small and hopefully not offensive and can be closed by clicking on the 'X' icon. Or, the user can click on the logo to get to the Rain City site or click on the tweety birds to get to Rain City's twitter account. All sorts of possibilities (including incorporating swf's, but lets keep it simple for now). And, the clicks are tracked not only by but for google analytics as well.

Creating the Hotlink: I made the hotlink creation easy with a small web based UI. The user simply enters a title and pastes in the link then clicks create (after selecting the correct server). The hotlink is created and can be copied to, tinyurl or your favorite URL shortener. Here is what we get for the Hillary Duff link:

The user can test the link by clicking 'Test Link' to see if all is in order. If this looks ok, then copy the link to the shortener, make the tweet and that's it.

Adobe/Flex UI Code: As you can see from the code below, the code is quite simple. Click handlers for create and test, and the use of escape to get the title and target URL (hotlink) to work correctly as http parameters. I thought about using he open APIs provided by many URL shorteners, but decided to just let the user copy/paste the target URL. Here is the Flex xml code:

The Hotlink Service Code: I decided to implement the service code in ruby but php or java would have worked just as well. The objective is to pull the title and link from the URL parameters and use those inside the standard template code. The template code should probably be separated out, but it was easy enough to keep everything all in one file. The banner can be any combination of backgrounds, links, whatever. Anyway, here is the ruby code:

So that's it. Easy to use and all the tracking that an SEO could hope for. And, very customizable to suite the customer's requirements. Let me know if you want help setting up your own. I would be happy to help.