But what if you wanted to Twitter a link to my epic blog about using secure passwords? As you may know, Twitter updates are capped at 140 characters. The full address of my post is:
Not only is that hard to type, but it weighs in at 89 characters. This only leaves you 51 characters for the remainder of your tweet. When it comes to Twitter updates, space is at a premium.
Enter the URL shortening services. After TinyURL.com was launched in 2002, there have been numerous other sites with a similar spin, such as snipurl.com, is.gd, and bit.ly. By using their services, the large unwieldy URL above is rendered as http://tinyurl.com/jn2em2h . Much easier on the thumbs, and it gives you more space to write glowing praise about the link in question.
The problem is, as with anything on the Internet, you find people with malicious intent looking to use URL shorteners to their advantage. Firewalls, anti-virus software, anti-spyware software, and phishing scanners are great, but if you click a link that goes directly to a malicious site, often there isn’t anything security software can do about it. You may think you’re following a friend’s link to a story about the release of Windows 7, and end up at a site with adult content or a site with the intent to infect your computer with a virus.
Some of the shortening services have instituted a preview system; for example, if you were to enter http://preview.tinyurl.com/jn2em2h, the tinyurl site will tell you what the link points to. But for those sites that don’t have a preview system, or if you don’t want to retype all of them, there are a few ways to make sure you don’t end up someplace you’d rather not be.
There are add-ons, which are programs you can download for Firefox and Internet Explorer, which check the shortening site and report back to you the expanded URL, and then giving you the option of clicking on it or not.Longurl.org is a website that you can go to where you can copy and paste the shortened URL, and it will report back the full link.
So while sometimes your friends may just be trying to hit you with the most viral Internet prank of all time, other times you may find something far worse than Rick Astley on the other end of that link.
If you’re looking for some of these add-ons, go to http://snipurl.com/sikhj for Firefox or http://bit.ly/3RD3sP for Internet Explorer.