Thursday, November 29, 2007

URL shorteners. Are URLs too long?

Now that I find myself tweetering constantly and announcing my presence information to the world, I discovered that 140 characters are very limiting. Not so much to give out specific presence information like what I am doing, but rather when you want to embed URLs.

This brought to my attention, the general practice of using online services to create short URL aliases. The top services that I've found are Tinyurl.com, Snurl.com (a.k.a Snipurl.com), and Decenturl.com. According to Wikipedia, these are URL Shorteners. They come very handy for tweeting, and even emailing URLs to friends, blog posts, and SMS text messages.

The fine print is that the real URL is hidden, similar to a regular phishing attack. By clicking on them, you are going somewhere, you just can't tell where to. As a general practice, when in doubt, I read the URL before clicking on it. In other words, I look in the status bar of my browser, where the link is going to take me. This does not work with URL shorteners.

Let me give you an example of the usefulness of the tool. There is a great article on some new tools in the Cisco.com website. The URL for the blog post is http://blogs.cisco.com/webexperience/2007/11/sneak_preview_new_tool_to_help.html , 80 Characters in total. However, the shortened versions from two of the three services above are http://tinyurl.com/3btbkr (25 characters) and http://snurl.com/1ueg7 (22 characters). How can you tell where the two last links are pointing to? The only way is to actually click on them.

These service providers are aware of this, and they are introducing work-arounds to the issue. For example, TinyUrl offers a small link for a preview of the real URL. In the previous sample long URL, the preview is http://preview.tinyurl.com/3btbkr and it shows you where it is pointing to.

I think they offer a great service, but be careful and aware of the threats.

2 comments:

jaga said...

My best is smarturl.eu
http://smarturl.eu

Bartur said...

I suggest to try http://gu.ma/ with its interesting feature of adding a comment/description to generated links.