Beware of Those Shortened URLs

Filed as Features on July 17, 2009 4:49 pm

The rise of Twitter and the 140 character cap it brings (which in turn comes from texting, but that’s a different story) has forced URL shortening upon us. Let’s face it, most URLs won’t leave much room for actual content in a tweet, and that’s why we use services like TinyURL and bit.ly. However, they offer risks as well, since someone can claim that an URL is for a certain thing, while it in fact is something completely different. If you’re lucky, it is just a hidden affiliate ad, but you might just as well end up at a site containing malicious code.

That’s why it is good news to see bit.ly issuing warning for suspect sites, giving you the option not to visit them despite having clicked the URL. This is a good thing, and any serious URL shortener should have a similar feature soon enough. Read more about this over at Codswallop where our own excellent Chris Garrett is digging into the matter.

While we’re talking bit.ly, a happy birthday is apparently in order!

Anyway, back to the security issues. I predict most Twitter apps will start decoding shortening URLs as a result of this, which in turn means that you’ll at least be able to see the URL in plain text before committing to it. That will at least tell you something. Also, upcoming web browsers might get the same feature. Remember, they already issue warnings when they recognize phishing and similar nasty behavior.

And then there is Google. When will they launch their own URL shortener, or will they perhaps buy one? After all, shortened URLs are content that could help them tap into the realtime search game, and search is what they’re all about after all.

These are exciting times for anyone into URL shorteners. The rest of us won’t have to care as much, but we will have to be a bit more careful from now on. Transitions from small number of users, to the mainstream, is always a dangerous thing.

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  1. By Wallace posted on July 17, 2009 at 7:40 pm
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    Thanks for the headup.
    If Google want to acquire any url shortener service,
    bit.ly should be the first choice,
    it’s the leader at that field as i know.

    Reply

  2. By Lars Tong Strömberg posted on July 17, 2009 at 9:34 pm
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    On top of the tech itself, if Google indeed would get onto that URL-shortener boat, would not a.ly or a similiar single-char domain for an URL-shortener be worth the extra 2 char edge over a service such as bit.ly?

    As URL-shorteners become more and more important, going for a single-char domain is likely worth it for a big player such as Google as the primary selling point for that kind of service indeed is the shortest possible URL…

    Having said that, I totally agree bit.ly is a great service and the best around at the moment that at least I know of.

    Reply

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