Why Short URLs are Evil and You Should Never Use Them

Ok, so maybe that title was a bit of a hyperbole, but this is one of my biggest pet peeves on the Web right now. Joshua Schachter has a comprehensive analysis of the concept of Short URLs and the myriad problems associated with it, but the biggest one for me is the fact that the true URL is hidden from the user. As a user, if you want me to go somewhere on the Web, you better damn well tell me where that is first, instead of expecting me to blindly trust you. Another primary reason short URLs should (almost) never be used is their potential as a massive attack vector for hackers.

In order to get around the “opaqueness” problem, there are several browser extensions that will automatically expand the short URL — my favorite is Explode — which goes a long way toward mitigating the negative impact on user experience, but doesn’t solve the fundamental design flaws or security concerns.

2 thoughts on “Why Short URLs are Evil and You Should Never Use Them

  1. HI Matt, I agree that short URLs are much more justified on services like Twitter than they are elsewhere on the Web, because the 140 character rule creates a real problem for users wanting to include URLs in their tweets.

    However, I still think that short URLs are a poor solution to that problem, and that they introduce new problems that are worse than the one they’re trying to solve.

    One alternative solution for Twitter would be to let users create create hyperlinks instead of having to write out the entire URL, or to not count URLs against the 140 character limit. It’s my understanding that the main reason behind the limit is to enforce brevity, so exempting URLs or hyperlink markup from the limit would still achieve that goal.

    Do you have any thoughts on how to solve the problems that short URLs introduce? It seems to me like the architecture is flawed at a fundamental level, which is why I don’t think it should be used.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *