The first link shortening service, TinyURL.com was launched in 2002 when the need for shortened links was avoiding line-wrapping issues, which could break long links in some email readers. Now the number of link shortening services is approaching 200 all addressing the need short-links due to hardware issues or character restrictions on sites like Twitter.
A URL shortening service does a “301 redirect” to the full URL. That number stands for the code a web server issues to a browser (or search engine) when a URL is requested. A 301 redirect says that the URL requested (the short URL) has “permanently” moved to the long address. Since it’s a permanent redirect, search engines finding links to the short URLs will credit all those links to the long URL. — Danny Sullivan in URL Shorteners: Which Shortening Service Should You Use? also see Google URL Shortener Opened To The Public; Comparing To Bit.ly & Twitter, (March 2011) interim update.
Obfuscation leads to vulnerability
They may be convenient but issues have arisen as shorteners act an intermediary for destination websites. The truth is we do not know what may be lurking at the end of a shortened link so clicking can be risky. It could be a phishing site, malware site, or could be cloaking affiliates as a short-link obscures the target address. Without doubt they assist spammers to do their dirty business, undermine googlejuice, and expose users to security vulnerabilities. Eric Hellman has compiled a list of nefarious uses of short-links worthy of taking a hard look at.
Lifting the veil on short-links
While it’s true most link shortening services provide a preview option so the site behind the short-link can be determined not all do. That’s why services like ExpandMyURL and LongURL and URL X-ray which reveal the destination behind the short-link have sprung up. If you are Firefox user then Long URL Please is an add-on that covers a broad range of shorteners. LinkPeelr is for Chrome users that peels any short-link to reveal the destination.
Flipboard for iPad is a social magazine that aggregates web links from your social circle and displays the content in magazine form. Named Apple’s iPad App of the Year and one of TIME’s top 50 innovations of 2010, Flipboard is a fast, beautiful way to flip through the news, photos and updates your friends are sharing on Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader,Flickr and Instagram.
“The app goes into the URL and presents a preview of not only the actual URL but also gives the first paragraph or so of the article/website that is being tweeted. With such a mix of good and useless info on Twitter, not only is it safer to use Flipboard, it’s also a time saver.” — photodiction
Special note: The main reason for using Untiny is that some of the tiny services are blocked in some countries although the original long URL is not blocked. Untiny retrieves the original URL so you can access it – if it is not blocked too. Note that Untiny is NOT a proxy breaker!
In a perfect cyber world every URL would remain in its full form and there would be no intermediary link shortening services. Then we would not have to worry about security issues or the possibility of link shortening services going belly up resulting in “404s” to our articles.
Longevity is a concern. If a link shortening service goes down the tubes then all those short-links ie. redirects to our original URLs will be broken and every person who uses a search engine to locate them and click them will be faced with a “404″ (page not found). If bloggers are so ill-advised as to link to shortened links to our articles in their own posts, rather than linking to the full and correct original URL then if those links are broken that will result in a loss of page rank to our blogs.
Security is a concern. I have not experienced any short-links security issues. That’s probably because I don’t click links I have any doubts about. But there are two short-links issues that have annoyed me. They are: affiliate sites hidden behind short-links; and clicking a short-link only to find I have read that same article which was sent to me by someone else who used a different short-link.
The URL shortener I use is TinyURL and I also tweet WordPpress.com shortlinks.
Have you had any negative experiences with short-links?
Which link shortening services do you use?
- Goo.gl URL Shortner Gets More Features (lockergnome.com)