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Tens of millions of links are tweeted on Twitter each day. Wrapping these shared links helps Twitter protect users from malicious content while offering useful insights on engagement. All links submitted within tweets and direct messages, regardless of length, will eventually be wrapped with t.co.
As of October 10, 2011 the t.co URL wrapper automatically wraps all links submitted to Twitter, regardless of length. This includes so-called URLs without protocols.
I see no value in shorthand URLs... another thing that everyone has bought into being such a great idea that doesn't seem to accomplish anything.