A tiny annoyance

I sometimes visit a popular literary blog where the posts alternate between rambling discourses and cryptic links. I generally prefer the links, except that the author uses the service known as tinyurl for many of them.

Tinyurl was originally intended as a way of doing things like shortening links in e-mails, since some people can’t deal with links that run over lines. It has a few other legitmate uses, such as shortening urls for use in print or in presentations. But there is no excuse for using it in this kind of situation.

There are two main reasons not to use tinyurl unless you really have to:

  • First, it is fundamentally a bad idea to disguise links from visitors. When you hover your mouse over a tinyurl link it tells you nothing about the destination. It could lead to a site you’ve already visited, a spam site, or one containing malicious code. Most often, it just results in a waste of time.
    (Tinyurl does offer a preview function, but many people don’t know about it, and it gets into the issue of cookies management.)
  • Second, tinyurl undermines the basic architecture of the web by funneling links through a single destination, creating a greater likelihood of failure and the potential for abuse.

Maybe on twitter there is a need for these short urls. In general, however, I don’t know why a webmaster would want to remove meaningful content and replace it with emptiness.

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  1. I’m pretty sure I’ve sent an email to the proprietor of that blog complaining about the use of tinyurls – he claimed that his writing software couldn’t handle long lines, which confused me, as you’re absolutely correct.

  2. My blog somewhat fits that description — obviously excluding the “popular” part! — so perhaps a bit of explanation would help…

    I often use tinyurl for three kinds of links:
    * When I’m discussing an entire article that appears on more than one page, or appears on a page that has lots and lots of advertising, I try to set up a link that will pull all of the text onto one page. The NYT is particularly bad about this. I do the same for badly formatted sites like Slate. I use tinyurl because some browsers — particularly browsers using a European language — don’t handle the # and ? characters often found in extremely long URLs very consistently. In other words, it’s not my software I’m worrying about — it’s my readers’ software (all three of them).
    * Sometimes I am discussing matters for which I want to provide a reference, but don’t want my discussion to generate statistics for the “owner” of the reference by merely appearing in the blog. They’re going to get their statistics when people actually click on the link; it’s the passive references that cause trouble. Tinyurl works very well for this.
    * And sometimes I’m trying to surprise readers with the source.

    Then, too, there’s the whole “registration wall” issue, but that’s for another time. (I’m distinguishing between a “pay wall,” which I will respect, and a “registration wall,” which I generally won’t respect.)

  3. The bugmenot firefox plugin is good for registration walls.