URL shorteners == privacy shortener

Today I would like to talk/rant about URL shorteners, these things that take a good old link and turn it into something short and obscure.

One day people realised that sending long links over some mediums such as email or instant messaging could be a pain as the link would sometimes be cut up into pieces, and lose clickability. One of the reasons (IMHO) was that in those days fancy clean URLs were not so common so it would be easy to come across some of those crazy long links.

Then came the tweeting days, when the Internet decided it was time that everybody published content, and because most people have difficulties with literary expectations that exceed one sentence they came up with the brilliant 140 character limit (also to be compatible with SMS). In this situation even a normal optimised pretty link looked super fat, it's like putting a normal healthy human being next to Kate Moss..

This was already becoming a problem but then people took it to the next level, links nowadays get shortened even when posted on websites.. It makes absolutely no sense.. .

So what is wrong anyway ?

  • It hides the destination of the link
  • It adds a layer of failability, now you depend on the url shortening service, if they go down or moderate/filter your link.. .
  • There is a major leak of privacy
    • The clicker generates statistics at the URL shortener's service
    • The statistics are linked with the person who generated the URL and all the others that have followed the link

These statistics are available to whoever creates the link (you need to create an account generally for this function), there could be more things done with them. I am sure it can be quite interesting to see how a link gets propagated especially if you include IPs, User-Agents and most interesting maybe: the referrer (the site where the link was posted). I am sure with this kind of information you could map a viral movement of clicks a la Hans Rosling.. But as we all know, the Internet is power tool for marketing and the knowledge gained from these services will not benefit science nor the general public, au contraire.

So why ? Why do people use such things ? Even on those Twitter/Identi.ca type things I found that most links can actually fit and with room for a short description. I've even seen some privacy rights organisations who cannot restrain themselves from the urge to use such links, in emails and on their websites. Hello, it's like a vegetarian protesting in leather boots !

I am surprised to be writing this in 2010, I thought this obsession with having the shortest URL would have passed a few years ago.. . What next, maybe The Pirate Bay will start using Bit.ly as well ?