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.
Thord Daniel Hedengren is a designer, writer, and blogger, and also the former editor of The Blog Herald. He used to be a hotshot in the gaming industry in Sweden, but sold everything and went International. Most recently he wrote a book called Smashing WordPress: Beyond the Blog, and does loads of kickass design.