Point/Counterpoint: URL Shorteners

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It seems that these URL shorteners are a dime a dozen these days, what with Bit.ly, Tr.im, TinyURL and now even Digg.com has rolled out their own service for keeping those pesky hrefs in line.

With the increased use of short messaging services (such as – dare I say? – Twitter), these shortened URL’s have become increasingly popular on the Web. But are these services a good or bad thing? Could they put you at risk? Or are they just a useful tool?

Perhaps Ben Parr over at Mashable decided to play devil’s advocate, but his April 5th post entitled “5 Reasons Why URL Shorteners Are Useful” is a worthy response to blogging superhero Cory Doctorow‘s April 4th BoingBoing post “Why URL shorteners suck“.

To sum up Parr’s argument in defense of URL shorteners, he says they are useful because “they make links more manageable”, “they can track and compile click data”, “they can be transformed into social media services”, “they can provide users useful features” and “they promote sharing”. Go read Parr’s post to get more info, but for the most part these are good points about the usefulness of URL shorteners.

Doctorow’s challenge that these services “suck” is based on the ease at which a hacker could gain access to an unsuspecting user’s computer because of a tainted shortened URL. He cites a blog that suggests Twitter make their own service to ensure the safety of URL’s sent across its network along with another by Del.icio.us founder Joshua Schachter.

Schachter says that we are being burdened by clicking these blind links that could lead to malware, as well as by the middleman between us and the content we want to access. The later is a weaker argument than the safety argument, but it is interesting to note how much of our Web lives are in the hands of the cloud.

I don’t think Doctorow is claiming that URL shorteners are not useful, but rather, he is wary of their safety. A lot of things are useful but could potentially be dangerous, like an automobile, for example.  Perhaps the post should have been titled “Why URL shorteners are dangerous”.

As the smoke clears, it seems like URL shorteners are too useful to disappear due to safety, but taking precautions with them is good practice. Beware clicking shortened links from people you do not know, and make sure you tell this to your mom when she inevitably gets on Twitter.

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