It's so... short. April 20, 2011 10:54 AM   Subscribe

With more and more websites / companies making their own URL shorteners (youtu.be, ti.me etc), I guess we should talk about linking on MetaFilter and what the ideal is.

I think that using any shortening service should be avoided and people making posts should take the time to click-through and copy the full URL for linking, but maybe that's not the general consensus.
posted by hippybear to Etiquette/Policy at 10:54 AM (81 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

Since URL shorteners provide extra layer of possible obsolescence and link death, I agree that they should be avoided.
posted by maryr at 10:56 AM on April 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


This has been discussed before, and the conclusion is that URL shorteners should definitely be avoided.
posted by odinsdream at 11:00 AM on April 20, 2011


Yeah, I really don't understand why people use those shorteners on Metafilter. There's no post length limit (well, ok, there is, but if you're not filthy light thief you're not going to run into it). And it breaks things like the inline Youtube viewer.

Though I've also noticed recently people linking Youtube with weird parameters. Like the video id isn't the first parameter, or for some reason there's an extra parameters delimiter before it. Those also break the inline viewer.
posted by kmz at 11:02 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The ideal is that I should be able to hover over a link and read what it links to, so that if I decide to click it I won't be surprised.

If a URL shorterner is used, I can't do that.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:04 AM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Metafilter is not Twitter.
posted by tommasz at 11:05 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


This has been discussed before

Yes, I know it has, but always in the context of being bit.ly or one of those big shorteners, not the ones generated directly by places like YouTube or Time.

I keep seeing more and more of those newer shortener appearing, but don't know if it's something that one should be bugging the mods to fix or what.
posted by hippybear at 11:06 AM on April 20, 2011


I think you flag the shortened URLs and a mod will correct them.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:07 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Since URL shorteners provide extra layer of possible obsolescence and link death

Is it true that the internal Youtube and Time shortened URLs go dead more often than nonshortened URLs on those sites?

I'm not a fan of those shorteners -- it's just not clear to me why they would tend to go dead.
posted by John Cohen at 11:12 AM on April 20, 2011


Since URL shorteners provide extra layer of possible obsolescence and link death

Yeah, that's the case with those big, generic shorteners like bit.ly for sure. Does it apply to proprietary shorteners like hippybear mentioned? ti.me (I presume) and youtu.be still tell you which site you're going to, but do they retain the context of a file structure/name usually found in URLs?
posted by carsonb at 11:14 AM on April 20, 2011


cjorgensen: "I think you flag the shortened URLs and a mod will correct them."

Yes. The mods have said that when brought to their attention, they swap the shortened url for the long one:
"We usually nix shortened URLs as soon as we see them, and we even have some admin tools to help spot them in comments.

I'm not sure it happens often enough to warrant a warning on post, but that's something we can add if it gets out of control.
posted by pb at 7:03 PM on November 18, 2009 [+] [!]


Yeah, I change them whenever I see them. It doesn't seem to come up too often, and folks tend to flag when it does, so dealing with it manually for now is the plan.
posted by cortex at 7:06 PM on November 18, 2009 [+] [!]


I always change them. So yeah!
posted by jessamyn ★ at 7:16 PM on November 18, 2009 [+] [!]

posted by zarq at 11:14 AM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Some suggested slogans:

Be a good sport
Don't make your link short!

If you use a short link
You'll look like a fink!

Short links?
That stinks!
posted by amyms at 11:16 AM on April 20, 2011 [13 favorites]


Italic '★' is so disappointing. It should turn into a shooting star.
posted by carsonb at 11:16 AM on April 20, 2011 [19 favorites]


I'm kind of surprised that pb or someone hasn't set it up so that the shortened URLS are automatically replaced by the full equivalents, in much the same way that all Amazon links get the MeFi referral ID added in. (NB: I know nothing about programming, and have no comprehension of the feasibility of this idea, or lack thereof.)
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:18 AM on April 20, 2011


There are userscripts like Tiny URL Decoder that can help you see what you might be clicking on. That doesn't really speak to the subject of the post, more just an FYI.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:18 AM on April 20, 2011


URL shorteners are for links that appear in a text context, where there's a limit on space (twitter) or the line length would otherwise split it so cut and paste would be annoying, or where it can't be used as a link directly. None of these apply to metafilter so what would be gained?
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:23 AM on April 20, 2011


Nothing.
posted by John Cohen at 11:26 AM on April 20, 2011


This post uses one.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:26 AM on April 20, 2011


URL shorteners break the internet. One of the most popular URL shorteners breaks the internet while putting money into the hands of Libyan domain registrars. MetaFilter isn't Twitter, and there's no premium on space in comments; why on earth would we support the use of a system that intentionally obscures the target of a link, while also introducing an extra layer that can arbitrarily stop working?

On preview:

I'm kind of surprised that pb or someone hasn't set it up so that the shortened URLS are automatically replaced by the full equivalents, in much the same way that all Amazon links get the MeFi referral ID added in.

This is actually a fairly tough thing to do, with almost no return on investment. A better strategy would be to say 'stop using URL shorteners, because they suck.'
posted by Mayor West at 11:27 AM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I unintentionally used a shortened link in my Metafilter post yesterday, and thus, the YouTube video to which I linked didn't show up with the in-site player. YouTube automatically supplies a shortened link when you click "share". FYI.
posted by litnerd at 11:31 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


more and more websites ... making their own URL shorteners... like youtu.be

I see people using the shortened version, but where are such things announced?
posted by Rash at 11:34 AM on April 20, 2011


This post uses one.

It's YouTube's URL shortener, though. You know you're going to get a YouTube link with one of those. You wouldn't be able to guess the content of the video any better if the link wasn't shortened.

That post is weird and random, however.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:35 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The policy is: please don't use them. If you use them, we will fix them. That's pretty much it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:35 AM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


LOL
posted by Burhanistan at 11:37 AM on April 20, 2011


Here's one.

m.eh
posted by special-k at 11:44 AM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


The policy is: please don't use them. If you use them, we will fix themDESTROY YOU.
posted by DU at 11:46 AM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Someone made a post recently that used the youtu.be form of short links and it caused the inline viewer icon to not be there, which I found highly annoying but I didn't want to shit in the thread by bringing it up.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:56 AM on April 20, 2011


There are Firefox plug-ins that show you what the underlying link is when you hover a shortened URL.

Maybe the devs could arrange things so that any shortened URLs entered get re-written, the same way that Amazon links do.

I actually more often have the reverse problem when I want to link something. i.e. The URL in my address bar that I could copy-paste is full of needless gunk like info about path taken to reach that page, sessions ids and what not all of which clutters up and possibly breaks the link when shared. It's often a hassle to figure out how to clean up the URL to its bare minimum.
posted by philipy at 11:56 AM on April 20, 2011


It's often a hassle to figure out how to clean up the URL to its bare minimum.

Sure it is. But I'd say, do it anyway. It shows respect for the community.
posted by hippybear at 11:59 AM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I actually more often have the reverse problem when I want to link something. i.e. The URL in my address bar that I could copy-paste is full of needless gunk like info about path taken to reach that page, sessions ids and what not all of which clutters up and possibly breaks the link when shared. It's often a hassle to figure out how to clean up the URL to its bare minimum.

This is a site-specific problem, though, and certainly isn't solved by URL shorteners in any case. Look for a "permalink" option on the page you're trying to link to, or a "share" button that provides a copy-paste link. That can sometimes get you closer to a cruft-free URL.
posted by odinsdream at 12:04 PM on April 20, 2011


There is zero reason to shorten a URL unless your have space constraints, or want the URL to be human-rememberable. URLs are not shown in posts, and there are no size limits at Metafilter, therefore they shouldn't be used.

Alternate idea: pb, want to make a Metafilter shortner?
posted by blue_beetle at 12:06 PM on April 20, 2011


Maintaining a URL shortener in good repair isn't an easy trick. We have one for outbound links but we very very badly do not want to make one for inbund links. Maybe we could make a post-checking mechanism that alerts people if they are using a URL shortener and tells them not to.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:08 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I actually more often have the reverse problem when I want to link something. i.e. The URL in my address bar that I could copy-paste is full of needless gunk like info about path taken to reach that page, sessions ids and what not all of which clutters up and possibly breaks the link when shared. It's often a hassle to figure out how to clean up the URL to its bare minimum.

I don't think this is an issue with Amazon links, since Metafilter automatically transforms that gunk into a Metafilter referral.
posted by John Cohen at 12:15 PM on April 20, 2011


inbund links

I know that's just a typo of "inbound links" but my brain parsed it as "inbred links" and I thought that would be a great term for posts that are not technically self-links but are the "you are too close to the material/site/creator" situations.
posted by amyms at 12:15 PM on April 20, 2011


YouTube automatically supplies a shortened link when you click "share". FYI.

Now. This is new behavior. You used to have to click a box to get the shortened version which I found annoying. This might go towards explaining these links if you see them. Prior to recently the default was to the longer links.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:21 PM on April 20, 2011


YouTube automatically supplies a shortened link when you click "share". FYI.

Damn. That is annoying. I always manually c&p Youtube URLs, but I wonder if recognizing youtu.be links might need to be added to the inline viewer if that's how Youtube will be sharing links from now on?
posted by kmz at 12:25 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Earlier discussion.)
posted by rjs at 12:28 PM on April 20, 2011


Isn't a shortening pony a small horse made of lard?
posted by ooga_booga at 12:32 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


kmz: There's no post length limit (well, ok, there is, but if you're not filthy light thief you're not going to run into it).

If my overwhelmingly long post is a valid judge of limits, you can only shove 30-35,000 characters in a FPP, and limit to comments falls in a similar range. You know, in case you wondered about that kind of thing.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:38 PM on April 20, 2011


I wouldn't be surprised if the limit is actually 32,767 characters, give or take 1 or 2.
posted by kmz at 12:41 PM on April 20, 2011


YouTube automatically supplies a shortened link when you click "share". FYI.

Yeah this changed at some point. I think it's less obnoxious than general URL shorteners, because:

a) youtu.be links always go to youtube. No surprises.
b) The video ID is still in the link, so changing a link to an embed or something is still easy
posted by wildcrdj at 12:42 PM on April 20, 2011


(in fact, youtube "shortened URLs" are just:

http://youtu.be/VIDEOID
)
posted by wildcrdj at 12:43 PM on April 20, 2011


If the new youtube link style really gets pervasive, we may look at futzing with the embedded player code or something, yeah.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:46 PM on April 20, 2011


ooga_booga: "Isn't a shortening pony a small horse made of lard?"

Crisco Cat Seez U Bake Cookeez
posted by zarq at 12:50 PM on April 20, 2011


Link shorteners seem so temporary and precarious, but then, with many sites killing links in tiny amounts of time, not so different from the wider web; we need to hire out "Watson" for a week, feed it every single FPP EVER, and have it link-check, and collate every "working link", and every "broken" link, and then to take that information, and use it in conjunction with the tool which is "Memento Project", the awesome time traveling tool for the web, wayback-machine/archive.org compliant (memento-fox plugin for personal playing, it isn't optimized for big projects, and will slow down browsing... But you can get pages from the PAST, without "alot" of work), it is cool to use the plugin, because, for example on things like a "cnn" link from 9/11, or a news page from some given event, the "context" of the articles which facilitated the discussion that is captured here is often not actually "there" anymore. Except it still exists (oh, and it is able to go "deeper" than just first links; like, if you go to a time-displaced, gone link, many times you can follow "old" links, and get to the "old" targets. One day. One day.

That would be the best thing ever. IBM, Watson; do you read me now? What are you Watson? Chicken?
posted by infinite intimation at 1:07 PM on April 20, 2011


What are you Watson? Chicken?

Toronto.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:08 PM on April 20, 2011


????
posted by infinite intimation at 1:12 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


MORNINGTON CRESCENT!
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:21 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


And then, of course, there's this: mefi.us/t/20571
posted by Karmakaze at 1:29 PM on April 20, 2011


Holy geese!
posted by shakespeherian at 1:45 PM on April 20, 2011


(giggling in the corner)
posted by likeso at 1:48 PM on April 20, 2011


MORNINGTON CRESCENT!

Now in your freezer aisle.
posted by zamboni at 1:51 PM on April 20, 2011


Print media is a good place for short URLs. Twitter is conceivably a good place for short urls, although perhaps they could lift the character limit for URLs only. Everywhere else, the more clearly semantic a URL is, the better, and URL shortners are only good for playing jokes on people.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:54 PM on April 20, 2011


Due to having to skim submission tags for an old job, I am very wary of anything tagged ".be" or /be." They were one of the four categories that didn't even get rejection letters.
posted by klangklangston at 1:58 PM on April 20, 2011


I like the idea of metafilter (and all other sites) translating short urls for display. Even twitter could do this, and just not do this if it is sending an SMS. Sites could keep their own cache of translations (or throw away the shortened version if you will never send SMSes), in case the translation service died.
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 1:59 PM on April 20, 2011


Tough on the Belgians, though.
posted by likeso at 2:00 PM on April 20, 2011


likeso: "Tough on the Belgians, though."

Still, they led full lives.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:21 PM on April 20, 2011


Replete with chocolate, perhaps. But were they godly?
posted by likeso at 2:44 PM on April 20, 2011


I just added support for youtu.be links to the inline player. We're seeing enough of those now that changing them by hand is going to be a hassle.
posted by pb (staff) at 2:55 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Replete with chocolate, perhaps.

and great beer.
posted by jonmc at 3:09 PM on April 20, 2011


This beer.
posted by likeso at 3:12 PM on April 20, 2011


Also, the most gratuitous use of the word Belgium in a country's name ever.
posted by kmz at 3:13 PM on April 20, 2011


Except for 1908-1960.
posted by likeso at 3:16 PM on April 20, 2011


(go on, split the hair, I dare you. I doubledog dare you.)
posted by likeso at 3:18 PM on April 20, 2011


Sure it is. But I'd say, do it anyway. It shows respect for the community.

Hippybear, I find it irksome that you think I need to be told this. If I didn't do it already do it, I wouldn't know how annoying it is to have to do it, would I?
posted by philipy at 3:23 PM on April 20, 2011


i dnt knw thy r teh sme i think RT @tommasz Metafilter is not Twitter
posted by KokuRyu at 3:30 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Western Sahara is a disputed territory, which has no country code top-level domain (ccTLD), but .eh is reserved for that purpose.
posted by boo_radley at 3:58 PM on April 20, 2011


Shortened URLs make the internet sad.
posted by Aquaman at 4:23 PM on April 20, 2011


Alternate idea: pb, want to make a Metafilter shortner?

metafilt.er
brought to you by .... George Clooney?
posted by mannequito at 6:01 PM on April 20, 2011


Hippybear, I find it irksome that you think I need to be told this. If I didn't do it already do it, I wouldn't know how annoying it is to have to do it, would I?

Sorry, that wasn't directed at you specifically, philipy. That was more a general statement of "this is how you do it" not a lecture about proper manners. Sorry for the confusion and my lack of ability to communicate clearly.
posted by hippybear at 7:53 PM on April 20, 2011


So, I'm actually a bit confused now. The official position is "don't use URL shorteners", and then we are told that a URL shortener friendly modification has been made to the inline video viewer.

I started this thread because I've been seeing inconsistent behavior about these other shortener URLs all across the site, and now it seems I've only made the confusion worse.
posted by hippybear at 7:56 PM on April 20, 2011


Well the big deal is this...

there are two sorts of URL shorteners, ones that the site itself does and ones that are outside and shorten any URL.

First sort: youtu.be, nytim.es &c
Second sort: bit.ly, is.gd, the sadly departed (and returned!! holy holy!) icanhaz.com

The first sort are more or less legit, can't be used to do stuff that is totally sketchy, have a 1 to 1 correspondence with items that exist on that site, give some indication of what the content is (talking generally here: it's a movie, it's a photo, it's a news article)

The second can change, can die, can go away, obscure the content being linked to.

So, the second sort are bad, the first sort are, to my mind, shruggo. My apologies if this is what you were taking about the whole time, hippybear, and we missed it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:10 PM on April 20, 2011


Unfortunately YouTube made a decision to make the shortened URL the official way to share YouTube videos at other sites. So if you click the big Share button at YouTube they give you a youtu.be URL instead of a youtube.com URL. I personally think it's a mistake. But we're seeing an avalanche of these URLs because of YouTube's policy change and there's no use fighting that fight. As jessamyn mentioned, those URLs aren't obfuscating anything and they'll be around (in theory) as long as YouTube itself is around.

It's not my favorite change we've made recently, but I think it'll make things easier on everyone. Most people don't know or don't notice the difference between youtube.com and youtu.be and so I'm ok with supporting it.
posted by pb (staff) at 8:17 PM on April 20, 2011


I got your url shortener right here!
posted by tumid dahlia at 10:20 PM on April 20, 2011


http://moreinsid.de/tldr
posted by memebake at 1:02 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


yeah, fuck.it
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 5:48 AM on April 21, 2011


ow.ly is down right now.
posted by nicwolff at 12:45 PM on April 21, 2011


Unfortunately YouTube made a decision to make the shortened URL the official way to share YouTube videos at other sites.

Well, I think the decision was along the lines of: the new URL contains _exactly_ as much information as the old one, but is shorter. Which is most certainly not the case for "generic" URL shorteners.

That said, I realize it breaks scripts and things that were relying on the old /watch format, so it's not like there was no downside.

(also I had no actual involvement in this decision, so this is just personal speculation)
posted by wildcrdj at 1:58 PM on April 21, 2011


My apologies if this is what you were taking about the whole time, hippybear, and we missed it.

Yup! That's exactly what happened. I know about the bit.ly, etc thing being a no-no, but have been seeing all these other custom shorteners taking over the links, and had wanted to talk specifically about those.

And now it seems I have an answer. The site-specific shorteners are not a problem here on MetaFilter, and they should not be flagged for the mods to change or otherwise worried about.

Thanks.
posted by hippybear at 4:05 PM on April 21, 2011


Well, I'm gonna nitpick and say that the jury is still out on site-specific shorteners since they may not all be equivalent in terms of how informative they are compared to full versions.

With youtube, we're going from one incomprehensible url to another, so nothing is really lost with the shortening. Between that and the apparently growing ubiquity of their shortened urls, adapting our embedded youtube stuff to deal with the new style of urls is a sane move.

For sites where the long urls contain actual title text or other useful contextual hints, and the shortened urls don't? Avoid using those on mefi. Flag 'em if you see 'em, just like with the third-party stuff like bit.ly or tinyurl.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:11 PM on April 21, 2011


I'M SO CONFUSED!!!!!

But I'll deal with my confusion in my own time. I think I grok what the new policy is, and I'll just run with it until the mods tell me to quit bugging them. :)
posted by hippybear at 4:14 PM on April 21, 2011


Let's say that The Atlantic had a URL shortener where the Atlantic URL used to be

http://theatlantic.com/issuenumber/features/an-article-title-by-an-article-author.html

and their URL shortener changed it to

http://theatlant.ic/123456.html

You could argue that it might be a decent idea to use the longer one because there are context clues in the URL of the longer one that are absent in the shorter one. This is decisively NOT TRUE in YouTube URLs. They are both unintelligible nonsense. So with YouTube as pb says it was annoying that they made the short link the standard one, but that's a decision they made that we can accept or not and we decided to accept it. So whether you flag or not is not that big of a deal to us, but if we think there's benefit to the longer URLs we might switch them, and if you have a choice between them, think about whether the longer URL imparts more info, since there's no real penalty for using the longer one here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:09 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


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