Joshua Schachter lists several reasons why shortened URLs (those mini-links provided by TinyURL and its children), despite their convenience in some circumstances, are actually pretty bad. And I agree.
Some of Schachter’s reasons are technical, related to DNS servers and the code they’re written in, and others are more counterfactual – like what happens when a company goes out of business, and all of those links go dead?
But eventually, under the rubric of “usability issues” he gets around to the big one for me: “The clicker can’t even tell by hovering where a link will take them, which is bad form.”
I don’t know about you, but when I’m browsing the web, I hover over links like each one were a suspect public toilet — only touching down when I’m sure I know what I’m getting into. I take clicking through VERY seriously. Hovering over a link to get a peak at the URL may not always be perfect information, but to me, it’s essential. TinyURLs don’t let you do that. You’re going to the middle of nowhere. This bothers me, every time.
In response to Schachter, Jason lists what he’d like to change about the way Twitter uses shortened URLs:
With respect to Twitter, I would like to see two things happen:
1) That they automatically unshorten all URLs except when the 140 character limit is necessary in SMS messages.
2) In cases where shortening is necessary, Twitter should automatically use a shortener of their own.
That way, users know what they’re getting and as long as Twitter is around, those links stay alive.
Very reasonable ideas, all of these. In general, it seems like Twitter’s going to have to create its own rhetoric of linking as powerful as the “@username” designation for links to Twitter users. Maybe an “%sitename” HTML tag in lieu of a shortened URL? Not sure.