URL shortners: How do they work?

December 15th, 2011 in .News & Events
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I’m sure you’ve all seen URLs like https://bitly.com/tYBpZR, http://t.co/8WeEPKQZ and http://g.co/maps/b4pge floating around and wondered what the heck all that gibberish means. Are these safe to click? Could they take me to an unsavory website where my computer will get infected with a virus? Fret not, for these are URL shortners, which reduces the length of an URL that can be super long into something more manageable, and can be easily copied and pasted. The random letters and numbers serve as a unique identifier and links it to the long version, and while not great for memorizing, they are great for inserting into a field that might have a  restriction on the number of characters (think twitter with it’s less than 140c per tweet).

Some URL shortening services like bit.ly have the added benefit of generating a QR code as well as providing analytics such as click through rate, referring site and country breakdown. All useful stuff, especially data junkies like myself who love to pour over details and figures.

Mmm....pie

All your QR Code are belong to us.

Now, I’m not going to lie and say that all URL shortened links are safe, but for the most part if they’re coming from a reputable source, you shouldn’t have much to worry about. That being said, if you are concerned, there are ways to uncover and find out just exactly what you’re clicking on. Utilities like Untiny pull the URL data and provides the full link again, so you can always be sure what you’re clicking on. It’s not only useful for businesses to analyze and track data, but also for those that are narcissistic interested in seeing just how many people click the links they put on their Facebook and Twitter accounts ;-) .

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