I Don’t Trust Short URLs

Your website URL is better than someone elses.
Quit Using URL Shortener Services.

Am I A Twitter Snob?

I’ve been criticized for being a ‘Twitter snob’ for a long time. Yes I got an account early on. No, I didn’t get ‘into’ it for ages. Twittering for a variety of reasons, strikes me as a great way to get out information, but I don’t click on 95% of the links other people post. Why? Well, the short end of it is that I’ve been in the technology field for a decade – I don’t trust cloaked links. Sorry. Yes yes, I know they’re not ‘technically’ meant to be seen as ‘cloaked links’ but that’s really what they are isn’t it? You don’t know where you’re going.

Don’t You Trust People?

Actually, no. I don’t. Trusting everything you see and read and ever link you can click on or every email you open is a great recipe for getting every ugly virus known to man. It’s also a great plan of action if you’re really into making identity theft easy, or if you love having your email filled with spam because you just verified to a spambot program that the email is a good one because it has a person checking the email on the other end.

But.. the People You Follow On Twitter Are FRIENDS!

Sure. Some of them are. But how many of them use Tweetdeck, Twirl, Flock or any other variety of INSTALLED software to do their Twittering? I may trust my friends on Twitter, but do I trust that they can’t possibly ever get a malicious virus on their computer that can take control of their Twittering software and start spamming links? If that happens, what’s the chance that a virus is going to spam links to happy nice places where there’s just a webpage full of sunshine and rainbows?

I have a few friends on instant messengers who periodically have gotten viruses that spam out instant messages prompting me to check out some site. Thankfully, I usually know them well enough to know if it ‘sounds’ like something they type. I know people who have gotten email viruses that have attacked their Outlook email address book and sent out malicious emails to spread the virus to everyone on the list. I don’t expect my friends to somehow be totally immune to ever getting a computer virus.

The point is, it’s not about trusting friends or trusting what they have to say, it’s about not trusting people who know how to manipulate the systems and send out malicious data without their knowledge.

What Links Do I Trust?

Links to a domain I know. If I’m following someone, I know their website. I probably read it regularly. If they post a link to a new post and the link includes their domain, I click on it. I read the article, I comment, and I’m a happy camper. Win win, all around.

There Are Addons To Check The Link Destinations…

Yep. There are bits of code that can be added to your browser or your software to reveal the link destination before you click on it. The problem is that about half of these are made to actually have your browser or software do a quick visit in the background to the site and return the link destination. Why? Because those bits are actually more about helping you decide if you want to take the time to visit it and less about security.

Using one of those bits of code, to me, doesn’t at all solve the issue for me. I do not want my browser or computer software automatically visiting a site I do not know so that I can decide if I want to go there. I want to know what the site is without having to visit it in any way – so I can decide if I want to go there.

What Can Twitter Do About It?

In my opinion, the best thing that Twitter can do is allow people to post 1 full URL that does not count toward their character limit. No more shortened cloaked URLs. People can just add in whatever website URL they need to and be done. No more worrying about a URL shortening service going offline or shutting down and none of their links working.

Will Twitter actually do this? Who knows, but unless they change this soon it’s not a solution we can count on.

What Can Twitter Users Do About It?

Stop using use short urls and pester Twitter to allow you to have one full URL without it counting toward your character limit.

What Can Website Owners Do About It NOW?

Much more. If you run your own website, you have plenty of options. The best solution for a website owner / blogger right now? Make your own short URL’s. It’s not as hard as most people would assume, and it’s definitely a better option than letting some service control links to your content.

Part two of this article will show you how and the different options available to making your own short URLs.

What Can CMS Developers Do About It NOW?

Integrate easy short url creation into your website backend systems (and document easily how to find your shorter url) so website owners have access to using their own urls easier.

The series so far:

Part 1: This article
Part 2: Make Your Own Short URLs in WordPress
Part 3: Make Your Own Short URLs in EE, MT, Joomla and Drupal
Part 4: Make Your Own Short URLs With Domains or Software

6 Replies to “I Don’t Trust Short URLs”

  1. Tiny URL now has a preview feature. You can take a look at the URL before you hop onto the site.

  2. The TinyURL preview doesn’t say on the site if it opens on their server or is opened via a ping through your browser.

    Checking today, the there is a notice on the preview feature in the FAQ’s that say all previews have been disabled.

    Not sure how long it will be disabled – but it again proves to be an unreliable solution to a long-term problem.

  3. The article is paranoia drivel. Short URLs are perfectly fine. Use a proper tool to recognize fake/phished URLs. Get Firefox. Don’t click on crap you don’t know. Use a shortener such as Snipurl, they’ve been around since 2001 (before tinyurl launched with its 5 lines of code and one feature), they offer a truly short url with “sn.im” (you can also use snipurl.com, snipr.com, or snurl.com) and they offer much nicer previews: for example,

    http://snipr.com/asspire (original snip)
    http://peek.snipr.com/asspire (preview version)

    1. @Erick – People who believe that ‘short url’s are perfectly fine’ and yet say ‘don’t click on crap you don’t know’ are obviously the reason why web site owners need to handle this obviously conflicting decision for people so they don’t have to.

  4. Hi Nicole,

    I am a little paranoid on this issue as well. But a question for you:

    If I (@Rolograaf) was your twitterfriend and you got a short url like http://rolograaf.nl/plp would you trust that? (I can make my own short url’s with a free wordpress plugin called pretty link)

    1) you maybe would not know it was a short link directing or cloacking to another url
    2) you would trust the domain as it would be known to you

    I am using my own short url’s a lot, so I like to know if there is any resistance clicking them…

    Lawrence Rolograaf

    PS the used short url is pointing to the Pretty Link Pro version, which is not free but all it’s money worth…

    1. Yep. If I follow someone I usually know their website. In that case – if I see a shortened url off their domain, I would have no problem clicking it.

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