Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Saturday, April 11, 2021

With the growing popularity of mobile-centric communications tools like Twitter, URL shorteners like TinyURL and bit.ly are becoming essential sub-tools for delivering hyperlinked info in under 140 characters. But they come off as a necessary evil, at best a stopgap before a better solution comes along.

For all the critiques against these redirecting links in terms of SEO, general Web architecture and the like, for me, it all boils down to this one deficiency:

URL shorteners make links opaque, which spammers love.

And “opaque” really means masked, in every sense: Not only can’t you tell by eyeballing the URL where a clickthrough will take you, you can’t even mouseover it and get a reading of the “true” URL in a browser status bar or comparable indicator, as you usually can from text/image-embedded hyperlinking. In other words, URL shorteners produce a blind link — exactly the type of online stuff that you’re generally better off avoiding.

Sure, most of the time, using this masking technique is simply a benevolent matter of convenience, either to save character space or to avoid potential broken links. But clearly, the potential is there for malevolence, ranging from the merely annoying (driving spam-destination traffic) to the truly hazardous (landing on a site-hijacking site or even a .exe link). Ultimately, it’s an unnecessary risk.

That said, I’m using TinyURL every time I post to this blog, in the form of the WordTwit plugin for WordPress; it pumps out the post permalink in a tweet, predictably with a compacted link. So I’m contributing to the problem. Hopefully, an overhaul to this system will come along to replace all this awkwardness.

UPDATE: I just discovered this: In Twitter’s built-in search site, search results containing shortened URLs include an inline “expand/contract” toggle, which effectively solves the blind link problem. Or it would, if it were extended to the live Twitter activity, which I hope will be the case shortly. Naturally, something like this would be a godsend for every other online channel that makes use of shorteners.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 04/11/2021 05:55pm
Category: Internet, Social Media Online
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5 Feedbacks »
  1. I need a way to make my own short URLs.

    GarySaid.com is only 11 characters, while tinyurl.com is 10, but tiny url adds 6 characters. Even if I only added up to 3 characters (at least 46,000+ unique URLs) at least they’d be “mine”.

    Comment by Gary LaPointe — 04/11/2021 @ 7:26 PM

  2. You’re not counting that dot in dot-com? Because it does count in character-counting y’know :) So it’s really 12 characters for GarySaid.com and 11 for TinyURL.com.

    As for your need, there seems to be a couple of WordPress plugins for it.

    Comment by CT — 04/12/2021 @ 11:24 AM

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