The Problem With Short URLs – You can’t tell from a short URL where the link will actually take you to. E.g. I posted a link which was converted to http://goo.gl/tgFPhF.
There’s no way to know where you will end up if you click this. However, if you could see the actual full link (which is techlogon.com/2011/12/06/how-to-enable-the-hidden-admin-account-in-windows-7/) it becomes obvious that it points to my own site – and it also gives you an idea what the story is about.
Because you can’t tell where short URLs might lead, they can be used to take you to unsafe or malicious sites full of viruses etc. Also, some website owners (not me) use short URLs to hide (‘cloak’) their affiliate links – so you can’t tell if a link will take you to a product/shop they are advertising.
I have no problem with affiliate links e.g. Amazon and I do use them sparingly at TechLogon but I don’t think it’s right that on some sites you could be ‘conned’ into visiting them. To help decide which links are safe/good to click, you need to unshorten the URL i.e. expand it into the full long website name – there are several ways of doing this:
1. Manually – Websites like unshort.me and unshorten.com (there are many others) let you unshorten a URL – simply visit the site and copy the shortened URL link (or type it) into the box then click Unshorten to reveal the link’s full website address.
These sites work very well but copying the URL into them can become a pain – especially if you regularly have many links to check out from Twitter etc. A better solution is to install a web browser add-on or extension that can do the unshortening automatically:
2. Firefox Add-ons
Long URL Please – takes a different approach – instead of making you right click a shortened URL it simply replaces every shortened URLs it finds (and can convert) on a web page with the original long URLs.
Long URL Please Mod – is an extension of the previous add-on which works with more shortURL services (including nested shortened links) and also offers a mobile version for Android.
3. Google Chrome Extensions
LinkPeelr – takes any short URL and reveals the actual long link behind it, covers all the major shortURL sevices. To use it, hover your mouse over a shortened URL and a tooltip appears showing the long link you would be taken to. You can then click on the link or keep going without leaving the page.
Tip – New Short URL services (that people use to create short URLs) spring up all the time – there are literally hundreds of them (although a few large ones dominate). So don’t be surprised if, at some point, you come across a shortened URL which none of the methods reviewed above is able to unshorten – the URL may have been shortened using a service that is too new for any of the methods to support yet.
Although the manual process works, using a web browser add-on is far easier.
The Firefox add-ons are useful but I don’t like either method used – having to right click a short URL link is annoying and converting all of them (even if you only want to see one) seems a waste of time and could slow down page loading for no good reason – especially on Twitter which has so many short URLs and is plenty slow enough already…
LinkPeelr provides a great compromise and seems a really polished extension – you get to choose which URL you want to unshorten and hovering over it is easier and quicker than having to right click it.
It’s just a shame that it’s only available for Chrome – and a real surprise that it only has a couple of thousand users.