I would prefer to see where I'm going, thanks July 25, 2011 1:07 PM   Subscribe

What policy, if any, is there about URL shorteners in links?

I do not like them; in fact I think URL shorteners are a cancer on the web in general. I usually hover the mouse pointer over a link before clicking it, to see where it goes or whether it's a pdf file or suchlike (and I don't understand why people demand warnings of what a link points to when they can see for themselves without needing to click on it). But URL shorteners make that impossible, by obscuring the destination of the link. They're wholly unnecessary, since Me* posts are not filtered for length and since raw URLs do not appear inline.

Why do people who use abridged URLs do so, and if this is not a breach of etiquette, why not? Just as people are expected to 'own their words' here, I think people should also own their links. The only worthy exception I can think of is where people point to mirrors or Instapaper-like 'reprints' designed either to spare a small site from being swamped by incoming traffic or to deny traffic and attention to some particularly objectionable or dangerous site (malware infection, terrorism vector, evil overlords). These exceptions are rare and are typically explained by the poster to prevent confusion in the first place.
posted by anigbrowl to Etiquette/Policy at 1:07 PM (34 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

The policy is "please don't use them", backed up by us generally fixing them when we do see them and leaving a note in contexts where it might help spread the word.

This is slightly complicated by things like youtube's more recent shortened URLs that are functionally no more opaque than the unshortened version, but those are more the exception than the rule. Things like tinyurl, bitly, etc. are not useful on mefi and we would rather people not use them.

That said, with the rare exception of someone trying to hide a sketchy url or an affiliate code in a munged URL, mostly people just use them because they're in the habit of doing so elsewhere where it might make sense or because they copied the shortened url from wherever they got the link they're passing on. I don't think there's a lot of intentionality about it, and most folks who I've dropped a note to seem to be pretty understanding about it as a mefi-specific convention once they realize.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:11 PM on July 25, 2011


I'm pretty sure the majority here agrees with you, anigbrowl. The mods regularly change shortened URLs to the full addresses when they're pointed out.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:11 PM on July 25, 2011


I hate them, personally. But I think they're used for reasons of copypaste convenience when people are on mobile browsers, and maybe getting stuff from twitter links.
posted by elizardbits at 1:12 PM on July 25, 2011


It's frowned upon and they tend to get changed to long urls.

On Preview: Shakes fist at Cortex for typing much faster than I can.
posted by Jahaza at 1:13 PM on July 25, 2011


I'll toss it into the FAQ. We do not like them.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:14 PM on July 25, 2011


Flagged as 'HTML/display error'.
posted by carsonb at 1:14 PM on July 25, 2011


I use a handy Chrome plug-in that makes the hover-overs for shortened URLs show where they actually go.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:17 PM on July 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


Added this to the FAQ.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:20 PM on July 25, 2011


The only ones I like are from ShadyURL.
posted by ODiV at 1:20 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Previously.
posted by litnerd at 1:28 PM on July 25, 2011


Are URL lengtheners OK though?
posted by Mister_A at 1:28 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I should really read the comments, eh?
posted by Mister_A at 1:29 PM on July 25, 2011


Just to be contrarian, I should say that I really like URL shorteners; at least when they're intuitive and site-specific. For example, I don't see anything wrong with youtu.be addresses.
posted by koeselitz at 1:48 PM on July 25, 2011


koeselitz, cortex already made a special case for youtu.be in the first comment here. SOME CONTRARIAN YOU ARE
posted by mendel at 1:57 PM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


And the specific defense of that case is that "well, their URLs are already needlessly horrid pieces of unreadable shit", so, you know. youtu.be isn't intuitive, it just can't really get any worse in the first place.

But, yeah, the issue here is not whether URL shorteners are fundamentally problematic in general (I don't think they are, but I think there are significant problems that they can entail depending on the implementation or the context) or anything like that.

The issue is whether they have a place on Metafilter, specifically, where there is no premium on character count, where links are expected to be behind text rather than pasted raw, where being able to mouse over a link (or tap-and-hold, or whatever the Android solution is) is a recourse to figuring out where you're potentially going. And our answer is "no, they are not useful or helpful on Metafilter, don't do that." What you do in the privacy of your own home is your business, and more power to you.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:13 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Telomeres, intestines, and uniform resource locators should not be shortened unless absolutely goddamn necessary.
posted by Your Disapproving Father at 2:19 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


mendel: “koeselitz, cortex already made a special case for youtu.be in the first comment here. SOME CONTRARIAN YOU ARE”

I'm so contrarian I AGREE WITH YOU
posted by koeselitz at 2:22 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


And the specific defense of that case is that "well, their URLs are already needlessly horrid pieces of unreadable shit", so, you know. youtu.be isn't intuitive, it just can't really get any worse in the first place.

youtu.be isn't that bad (compared to bit.ly et al.), but I'd still prefer it if people used the regular links because at least there will be some semblance of a possibility of visited links showing up in a different color.
posted by grouse at 2:43 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't feel very strongly on this topic, so don't take this as me endorsing policy changes or anything, but I would like to point out one benefit of shorteners: you can see how many people click the link (at least with bitly). Of course this only benefits the intellectual curiosity of the poster.
posted by jeffamaphone at 3:01 PM on July 25, 2011


This got me going down a little rabbit hole. Did you guys realize that the Amazon affiliate program is fifteen years old? And to think that there are high school kids who never really knew life BG (Before Google).
posted by exogenous at 3:03 PM on July 25, 2011


I use a handy Chrome plug-in that makes the hover-overs for shortened URLs show where they actually go.

Thank you for improving my internet life.
posted by immlass at 3:07 PM on July 25, 2011


I would like to point out one benefit of shorteners: you can see how many people click the link

As a link-clicker, I don't find this to be a benefit.
posted by grouse at 3:07 PM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't feel very strongly on this topic, so don't take this as me endorsing policy changes or anything, but I would like to point out one benefit of shorteners: you can see how many people click the link (at least with bitly). Of course this only benefits the intellectual curiosity of the poster.

Or the marketing metrics of the scummy viral marketing dude. And incents some implementations to go a step further and employ a hostage-taking frame around the linked content.

Basically, it's of no net benefit to anybody other than the linker, and that linker benefit is not something that remotely tips the scales away from community interest on mefi.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:25 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't see anything wrong with youtu.be addresses.

I hate the idea behind youtu.be with the fire of a thousand suns, and I hate whatever moron at youtube thought it would be a good idea to make them the default "share" URL because now they've spread like herpes. If I've already watched a particular video, I'd very much like it if the URL was the visited link color so I don't have to bother clicking on it again. This has been a standard feature of the web and of web browsers since even the 1994 days. But with this stupid shortener, now ever video has two URLs that it can go by, so if I had previously visited the video by way of its long URL and somebody links to it by its shortened URL, it will appear unvisited which is incorrect. URLs should be unique and canonical; the same content should not have multiple names.

Youtube also royally fucks up this concept by having the ridiculous stats-generating crap in the URL, like '&feature=related'. This has the annoying side effect that if you click on a video from search results, it will not appear in the visited link color if it appears in the 'related videos' column, which makes it a pain in the ass to figure out which of the related videos or search result videos you've already seen when you're trying to deal with a topic or search result that has a lot of videos. But they made this even worse by rolling out the shortener.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:02 PM on July 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


Thank you for improving my internet life.

I am more than happy to spread the joy of useful tools. There's probably something similar for Firefox, but I couldn't say for sure.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:28 PM on July 25, 2011


You seem to be making a mountain out of a molehill, Rhomboid. How much does it actually inconvenience you to accidentally click on a video you've seen before?
posted by flatluigi at 4:46 PM on July 25, 2011


Depending on how much time you spend sifting through youtube videos, that can end up being at least a small hill's worth of molehills. I'm annoyed by precisely the same thing he's talking about, personally, and if mefi had inconsistent urls like that in active use on the site I'd probably take pb's pet mole hostage until the situation was rectified.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:51 PM on July 25, 2011


I'm actually a little envious of having a computer where clicking on something can be done on a whim like that without regard for the consequences. On this 7 year old pile of dust, any site with more than a little bit of scripting renders the browser unresponsive for a few beats. A link to a photo on flickr in lightbox mode? 20+ seconds of lockup. Anything on gawker? At least 30 seconds of unresponsiveness. Thankfully those problems can be solved by simply never going to those sites. Youtube is a lot better, maybe 8 seconds from clicking to when the video starts playing. Sure, it's only 8 seconds, and I would gladly just live with it if it served any legitimate purpose whatsoever. But it does not. It's only twitter users that need short URLs, and so the twitter site or twitter clients should take care of that automatically and leave me the hell out of it.
posted by Rhomboid at 5:50 PM on July 25, 2011


In the future all links will be planck-length.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:07 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


We do not like the shortened url, we do not like them, anigbrowl.
We do not like them on a post, we do not like them on the coast.
We do not like them on the blue, we give them all a big loud "BOO".
We do not like them on the site, you shouldn't even try to fight.
We do not like the shortened link, before you post one, STOP AND THINK.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:14 PM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


I use his greasmonkey-script to reveal shortened urls.
posted by blue collar orc at 1:12 AM on July 26, 2011


I hate youtube long urls because they give no indication of what the video is about. couldn't they at least attempt to make some nice slug line for the url?
posted by bleary at 6:03 AM on July 26, 2011


I hate youtube long urls because they give no indication of what the video is about.

It's like youtube URLs were specifically designed to facilitate Rick-Rolling. It's like the programmers and designers met and said "I got a really funny idea but we'll have to break some of the functionality of the site, but it's really funny!" and everyone was like "RICKROLLED LOL"
posted by fuq at 9:46 AM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: functionally no more opaque than the unshortened version.
posted by herbplarfegan at 1:20 PM on July 26, 2011


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