Monday, September 21, 2009

Yay or Nay: URL Shortening

Coincidence or not, it seems in this new and brave Twitter-powered world (which deserves its own yay or nay blog but I'll save it for later), the prevalence of minimalist ... well, everything, have become popular. Half-size soda cans and water bottles, miniature laptops, and these tinyurl, (and URLs. Of course, the question is...

Yay or nay?

You may have already sniffed out which way I'm leaning, but I'll start with an objective look at the positives. A number of services (including Google Groups) don't take too kindly to very long URLs. With websites becoming more powerful by the day with amazing technologies backing them, more and more information is being handled by web services, and ultimately passed via URL. Additionally, shorter URLs are "cute" and they can also be more easily read aloud. Finally, some of the more advanced shortening services offer cool tracking features, which are nice when you are into those sort of stats.

So, negatives. Aside from the fact that the last time I typed in a URL or read a URL to someone to type in was April 1997 (as an April Fool's joke), I find myself incredibly suspicious and uncomfortable with clicking a link with an obfuscated mystery destination. And unfortunately (or fortunately, depending how you look at it), I (like so many others) am not on a Mac, so viruses are a concern. To me, URL shortening is essentially a rod and bait for phishing techniques. Yahoo and Myspace apparently agree, as they have banned URL shortening from some of their services.

So, the verdict...

Despite the features and "cute" factor that URL shortening provide, they also open doors to spam, phishing, and other dimly lit alleys that I don't want to venture down. Outside of services like Twitter that just don't allow enough characters to have a full URL and descriptive text, I find URL shortening to be useless. 98% of websites I visit are via a search or a clicked hyperlink ... and if I'm clicking a link, who cares if it's 20 characters or 200 characters?

Mind you, I have a clear bias as I am working with professional services most of the time and am used to seeing complete URLs (and do not click otherwise); however, in general, I think it's undesirable to be magically transported from one URL domain to another, just for the sake of cuteness.

Now, if there was a means of shortening a URL from something like to, that is more acceptable. Having a shortened URL within a domain is fine and useful given the same positives that you find with URL shortening, but without the obvious negatives as listed.

All in all, though, I like to know where I'm going before I get there. So, URL shortening get the Nay.

Thoughts are welcome, as always.

Carl Scott
Software Developer, Solertium Corporation
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