Are URL-Shortening websites legit?

I have occasionally used TinyURL, a website that compresses long URLs into short ones.

Now I notice a few other sites, e.g. “bit.ly” that do the same.

But recently I’ve read comments that discourage the use of these sites, alleging that they are data-mining traps that monitor and record individual computer use.

The sites seem to provide a free, useful service with no strings attached. I’d always wondered “what’s in it for them”.

So what is in it for them? Are they legit? Are they “fronts” for illicit surveillance? Is the Bilderberg Group involved?

They are legit, obvert surveillance.

Nothing sneaky about it, they track usage. They don’t delve into your PC or anything.

I don’t follow, why does one go to one of these sites? Do you mean they have registered good domain names not available elsewhere and let you use them for free? If so, I would indeed be VERY suspicious. While going thru their URL to your site, maybe they add malware or ads or something like that? You can bet it isn’t free because they are nice folks…

If someone does want a desirable URL, why don’t more use the new end thingy, like .BIZ, or .TV to get that short desirable URL then?

You use the site to shorten URLs. For instance, instead of http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=546998, you can use http://tinyurl.com/ybt5u9h. Much easier when you’re printing out a URL in hard copy, or for tweeting, where you’re limited in the number of characters.

bit.ly is another, as is is.gd. As far as what’s in it, they can sell ads, but in general their overhead is pretty low.

These sites are used to take horrendously long links and make a shorter passthrough link. You go to a newsite that has a 252 character long link, but the board you want to post it on only allows 144 characters in a link…what do you to? You go to tinyurl and have them create a redirect on a smaller character-count link that you can then paste on your message board/blog.

What exactly do they track, who for, and what use is it?

You mean aside from the obvious:
Identifying who goes where on the internet and how often. They may not know exactly who you are but they can tell by your ISP where you are, whether you’re a private or commercial user, and a few other things.

Marketing analysts like this kind of information.

It’s a faily low overhead operation. No real reason to think the limited advertising and donations on the sites don’t cover expenses.

The New York Times now has its own URL shortener, as does Flickr. If you look on the sidebar of any individual picture page on Flickr, you’ll see the flic.kr link. More and more sites are going to be going for this in upcoming months, as Facebook, with its short status updates, and Twitter continue to grow.

What’s the URL shortener at the New York Times?

Tinyurls make me nervous if I don’t absolutely trust the source. Usually when people were trying to steal your account in WoW they would post links to tinyurls, because if you saw where the link was going (some bogus looking domain in China, or wherever) you wouldn’t click it. So those services can be used to try to lure people to nefarious sites that host viruses and malware. Of course, my browser and anti-virus would hopefully catch that and block the site first but you never know.

The thing is if you’re printing for business you lose your brand and if you’re printing it for personal use, well it’s useful, but you lose any possibility of a meaningful URL which can be important to people. Obviously in your example the original URL was meaningless except for the straightdope domain but it’s increasingly common for pages and even search results to be human-readable URLs and you lose that with the URL shortening.

I just always found the anonymous shortening services like TinyURL bewildering. It’s like they were just waiting for someone to invent twitty.

On the other hand, I think it’s incredibly cool that you can type any ISBN or ASIN after amzn.com/ and it will bring up the Amazon book or product that exists in their system. But then you’re only going to Amazon for Amazon products and you know you’re going there.

Anyway, I’m not saying sites like TinyURL had no point before twitter, just that I always found it to be bewilderingly limited.

If the person you’re sending the link to might be skeptical, you can create a preview link, e.g.:

Obviously spammers are never going to use the preview option, but for someone who wants to send an easy to copy/paste url with the safety of the receiver in mind, they can use this option.

Question: do these keep a map between the tiny url and the site or do they, more likely, just compress the long name into a shorter one. The tiny urls look compressed to me.
So, Silverstreak Wonder these aren’t registered domain names, but just hash keys.

Ah that’s good to know. Even if they don’t provide it for you, you can make your own preview by adding that prefix to the url right?

From the looks of it, you can go to TinyURL and set it directly so you’ll see a preview before going directly to the link. I just tried it and it worked when I entered a (non-preview) TinyURL into my browser.

Of course, this might not help for the other shortening sites popping up.

Most print computer magazines use it, though. If they’re recommending software, the URL to download it can be long and involved, where a shortener can be simple for their readers to use. Here is the link for Quickbooks free simple start, for instance: http://quickbooks.intuit.com/microsite/home.jsp?priorityCode=5470500000&cid=all_intelitd_intelitd_5470500000&tb_name=oem (the Dope BBS shortens the full URL for this one).

It’s much better to tell your readers to go to http://tinyurl.com/yaws6st (TinyURL, BTW, keeps growing; it used to be five characters, now it’s seven).

I used to use it all the time in our handouts when we had to refer to our own web pages, which were long and filled with numbers and characters. It was also convenient when sending links via e-mail, since many mail programs would break long links into two lines as part of the formatting.

I also used it when I had to give web links over the phone.

I don’t use Twitter, but I’ve been using tinyurl for six or seven years.

They are not compressed, they are usually a base64-encoded ID, or a hash of one.

There isn’t much room to compress a URL anyway, except for the common bits like .com, and .html.

TinyURL has a feature that will set a cookie allowing you to preview the destination of any TinyURL, so you can click with confidence.

That’s compressed in my book, using the term loosely. Thanks for the function used.

That’s not compression by any commonly-accepted definition of the term, as the mapping is one-way. (The original value is not obtainable from the result.) The original URL can only be recovered by looking up the shortened value in a big list.

Ok I’m convinced. Those are pretty good uses.