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Sneaky little URLs

With the rise in popularity of Twitter and its 144-character limit, we're seeing more and more URL-shortening services.

Here's an example of a Twitter post that used a shortened URL:

DElibrarian Delaware Library: LIFE - Google Books: You can read LIFE in full text (with photographs) onlin.. http://bit.ly/pXpin


So where is that tiny little URL taking us? To Google Books to read Life Magazine? Will we be RickRolled? Or even worse, will we end up at a malicious site that's going to infect us with viruses and take over our computer?

In this case, DElibrarian is a trusted source and the link really is to Google Books to read Life Magazine. But how can we know?

3 bits of advice to deal with those sneaky little URLs:

  1. Be suspicious. Be skeptical. Evaluate the source. And don't click on every URL you run across (no matter how enticing the lead-in was!).
  2. Try a Firefox extension like "Long URL Please" to expand out these short URLs and show where they're really taking you.
  3. This one goes for ALL computing, not just for short URLs --- make sure you're running antivirus software that's up-to-date!


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Another tool for creating trusted shortened URLs was just developed by the Library of Congress for created links to Thomas resources:
Although I think it's unlikely that non-LoC twitterers will remember to use it, since it's an additional step, and one would tend to trust any shortened URL that came from a known LoC twitter source.

Meant to post this earlier (for I am DElibrarian)- I think that is great advice and a useful note of caution. I almost only ever use TweetDeck for reading and posting, rather than the twitter.com site itself, and you can configure TweetDeck to display the long URL when you click it- you have to click it again to connect, so there's a handy pause for thought built in as a security measure.

Thanks for the suggestions, Richard. I'll have to give TweetDeck a try--- it sounds slick!

Word to the wise: many spammers run URLs through multiple shorteners, and URL trackers such as "Long URL Please" and "bit.ly preview" have trouble identifying those and won't return any results for the original webpage.

I didn't realize that---thanks, Alicia! One more reason why it's important to keep #1 and #3 in mind...

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