Posts Tagged ‘shortener’

Hello, My Name is URL

Once upon a time websites didn’t exist … anywhere. As of October, 2010, there are an estimated 123,126,928 domains registered across the top-level domains (TLDs): .COM, .NET, .ORG, .INFO, .BIZ, and .US.±  
Each domain consists of at least one web page. Some domains are humongous. Take Wikipedia, for example. It has a minimum of 1.74 Billion {that a B for Billion) words spread across 9.25 million articles that are translated into about 250 languages.  Every one of those pages has a unique Universal Resource Identifier (URL) or web address.
To differentiate one page from another, especially in domains as large as Wikipedia, Google, and Yahoo, the number of characters needed to differentiate the URLs can become quite long and extremely difficult to memorize or even write to paper (i.e. old tech). If you are a Twitter user, you know the prevalence and need to shorten long URLs.
To make it easier on web users, over offer URL shortening services to shorten a long URL into an address much shorter.  Google just released its own URL Shortener. This French site lists 155 websites that offer these services. If you don’t know French, I suggest you use your Google Tool Bar translator or another translator.  Each site uses a mathematical algorithm to reduce common number, letter, symbol patterns of the URL into a single character. Think of it as zipping or compressing the URL using shorthand.
For example, below are two URLs: #1 is a real site with 77 characters; #2 is the short version with only 23 characters. They both display the same website content.
  1. http://www.peoplewhositinthedisabilityseatswhenimstandingonmycrutches.com/
  2. http://bit.ly/9H8aG4

How long can a URL be? There is some debate about what is possible in the real world, but imagine a URL of 256 characters or more and you make one typo… Arrgh).  No matter, what is important to understand is the potential danger of opening shortened URLs.

The danger comes from not knowing or even being able to guess what the shortened URL will do for you or to you.
Given the choice between these two URLs which would you definitely try to avoid?
You can tell by the language of the second URL as to the possible intent of the site. You have no warning from the first.
I am not saying to never click on a shortened URL. Personally, I do so all the time and I use shortened URLs in my e-mails, website, and blog because they have some advantages. Should you trust shortened URLs sent to you by friends and business associates because you know them? That’s a judgment call for you. It all comes down to your risk tolerance, trust level and experience with malware protection.
One way you might protect yourself is to use an URL lengthener service. They reveal the original URL. Just as social media sites such as Hootsuite incorporate URL shorteners, eventually they will also hopefully offer convenient URL lengtheners. Until then, proceed with caution.

Bob Pauls writes for his company, Des Moines Tech Support, about appropriate technology and computers in business, education, and community development. You can follow Bob on Twitter @desmoinestech.  Bob’s e-mail address is bpauls@dsmtechsupport.com


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