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Lady Gaga and 50 Cent Lend Names to URL Shortener Bre.ad

A new URL shortener and redirect funded by Troy Carter aims to add adverts to Twitter redirects. But do users want it?

Lady Gaga is the most tech-savvy pop star ever and she's now backing a new URL shortening and redirection service funded by her manager, Troy Carter.

Bre.ad claims to solve the problem of "noise" -- making a tweet stand out from the 150 million that are issued every day.

It does this by providing a link shortening and redirection service that in its simplest form works identically to bit.ly and Twitter's own t.co. A typical Bre.ad link looks like http://bre.ad/03qbgh.

However, users can also "toast" their links to make them "more meaningful", according to the people behind Bre.ad.

Toasts are 720x300-pixel advertisements, accompanied by a text message, that appear for five seconds before users are automatically sent on to their destination.

Those viewing the toast can click a Toast button on the page, which is akin to Facebook's "Like" feature. Once a user has toasted an ad, they're shown the Twitter feeds of others who have toasted it.

In other words, Bre.ad is an attempt to monetize URL shortening, and has a patina of social networking added-in. It's clever and simple, and one has to wonder why Twitter hasn't already thought of it. Bre.ad says it's in the process of patenting the service.

That said, there are obvious questions about how effective it can be.

Although users can click a Continue link to skip straight to the redirected site, five seconds is a long time to wait for a site to appear. Research has shown that surfers are unwilling to wait more than four seconds before a website appears (PDF link), although that data comes from 2006 -- faster broadband speeds have likely raised expectations that sites should appear even faster nowadays.

Despite what users might feel, however, celebrities and corporations will no-doubt love the service because it commercializes redirection. Alongside Lady Gaga, rap star 50 Cent and Pepsi have already signed-up to Bre.ad, which left beta yesterday.

The service is presently free of charge to use, both for simple redirections and the creation of toasts.

I saw mixed results in my tests. Ironically, five seconds was often too brief a time to respond to a toast. Sometimes the advert didn't finish loading before I was sent on to my destination, while other times I moved to click the Toast link only to find the page disappear. I suspect in the near future Bre.ad might do away entirely with the five second pause, letting users manually advance by clicking the Continue button when they're ready.

Using the service in its basic redirection form is simply a matter of preceding the link with http://bre.ad/. To create a toast to direct to http://keirthomas.com, for example, I'd type http://bre.ad/keirthomas.com. In this case users are instantly sent on to the destination without seeing an advert.

To create a toast, users need to click on the My Toasts link on the Bre.ad website (registration is first necessary but also free of charge). Here they can add their own image and message. Bre.ad says its developers are working on an application programmer interface (API) that should make it possible for browser extensions and other software to use the service.

It's also possible to click the Explore link on the Bre.ad site to see what others are toasting.

There's little doubt Bre.ad is a smart idea. Those who follow the Twitter feeds of celebrities and popular brands are going to be seeing a lot more of it.

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