Redirects in Google search results ‘waste’ $1B per month

Lately I’ve started to notice how much time is wasted by web redirects. Most of these aren’t actually necessary but are added by various services to insert their servers into the link flow to track user behaviour. The most annoying example of this is Twitter’s t.co service. Every time you post a link to Twitter it rewrites the URL (not the link text) to be a t.co URL. Then when someone clicks the link a request first goes to Twitter where the browser is redirected to the real destination. If you go to t.co you’ll see the following text:

Twitter uses the t.co domain as part of a service to protect users from harmful activity, to provide value for the developer ecosystem, and as a quality signal for surfacing relevant, interesting Tweets.

And, as a side effect, every user clicking on a link gets a hundred milliseconds of time their time wasted. Much more on low bandwidth or high latency Internet connections.

For sneakier example look at Google’s search results. If you hover over the links in the search results you will see the real URL. Under the hood Google uses Javascript to force a request to their servers for each link you click. JavaScript then rewrites the link and sends your browser to the real site. In Google’s defence this does give them valuable information to optimize the search results and of course it gives them more information to monetize. And, as a side effect, every search result clicked wastes a hundred milliseconds of someone’s time.

For fun let’s do some rough math on how much time this wastes and what it costs. After all, we’re all paying with our time so Google and Twitter get more information.

Ouch, a billion dollars worth of lost time each month. I have no idea how to compare this against the value Google users get from better search results but one has to at least wonder if this is a good deal.

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