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timeforcake: Should we fear tiny URLs?

ERIN PHEIL

A few months ago Tommy Ryan of Fairplay e-mailed me a section of a great Q&A article he’d come across in a (then) recent issue of Popular Mechanics. A reader had asked the article’s author: “Are there any dangers to using URL-shortening services such as bit.ly or TinyURL?” The author’s response included the following comments:- URL shorteners are potentially hazardous.- Clicking on a shortened URL is like opening an e-mail attachment sent by a complete stranger.- There’s no guarantee that shortened URLs will stick around; they would break if the service that generated them shut down.- People who currently use URL-shortening services should consider. using full-length versions of their URLs- The author would love it if websites moved away from long URLs and used shorter ones instead.Here are my thoughts on the author’s response:- As a general rule, it’s not smart to click on any link that’s been posted online or e-mailed to you by a person or company you don’t trust. What appear to be absolutely valid, normal website links can whisk you off to bad websites just as easily as shortened URLs.- There’s no guarantee that any URL, whether shortened or not, will stick around. Sites come and go. Site content and pages get updated. URLs change. The Web is a dynamic creature with broken links playing an inescapable part in its reality. (However, if you truly fear that a URL-shortening service will someday close its doors, causing all its shortened URLs to break … then it probably wouldn’t be very wise to use that service.)- Asking people to use full-length versions of URLs is not the most realistic of requests. (How many of you are thinking, “How would I fit URLs containing more than 140 characters into my Twitter posts?”) – Websites use long URLs for reasons; they don’t do it just for kicks. Lengthy URLs often play important roles in providing secure, encrypted browsing sessions. Including keywords in URLs is an effective strategy for those looking to achieve great search engine rankings. Including variables in URLs allows some websites to generate dynamic pages (pages that don’t permanently exist in a website but instead contain content generated on the fly). As I see it, suggesting that the Web “move away from long Web addresses” is kind of like saying, “Everyone should move toward driving scooters, and scooters only.” Here are my thoughts in a nutshell: Don’t feel terrified about using URL- shortening services. And don’t be scared of clicking a shortened URL if you trust the person or company that gave it to you/posted it online (which is the same basic rule that applies to just about all links on the Web).And with that being said, if you’d like, you can view the original Popular Mechanics Q&A article in its entirety right here: http://tinyurl.com/23smp8k. Thanks again to Tommy Ryan for sharing this article!eRin pheiL is the owner of timeforcake (www.timeforcake.com), a web design/development studio in Frisco. She can be reached via e-mail at erin@timeforcake.com.


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