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Short URLs: Space Savers or Safety Hazards?

12/16/2009

While they save precious space when updating statuses in Twitter, Facebook and linkedIn I’ve always thought that URL shorteners like bit.ly and tinyurl.com are just a little scary. Not so scary that I never use them, but scary enough that I think twice about clicking them. Of course I’m sure these are on the list of things that give IT people high blood pressure, nervous ticks, and nightmares.

Why are they scary? Well, while the space-saving aspect is great, the potential of clicking on a malicious link is heightened because it is difficult to see the source site.  This begs the question, how can I use these safely?

NECN did a short news story on this topic yesterday which is worth watching. NECN Director of Digital Media, Ted Mcenrow gave 3 Ways to Keep Short URL’s From Being a Problem.

The Number One Tip: Be Aware & Be Skeptical. Don’t click on short URLs posted by people you don’t know, or in messages that seem off, odd, or spammy in nature.

***

I’m guessing that some of you are thinking “What the heck is a URL Shortener?”  A URL Shortener is a free web service that takes a long URL and converts into a hyperlink with fewer characters.

For example, if I want to share some information about our Worker’s Comp program on Twitter, I have the option to type in the full URL (http://www.massagent.com/insmarkets/workercomp.cfm). This takes up 51 characters which doesn’t leave much room for the rest of my message.

However, if I plug the same URL into bit.ly, I can use this URL (http://bit.ly/5cf9dx) in my Twitter update – which is only 21 characters.

This leave a few extras characters open incase someone wants to Re-Tweet the message or I want to add more info into the tweet.

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