Twitter is a social networking and micro-blogging phenomenon. For those unfamiliar with Twitter, the website allows users to post a “tweet” with a maximum of 140 characters. A tweet provides a short blast of information about what the user is doing at the moment no matter how interesting (“I’m shark diving in Fiji”); historic (updates on the crisis in Iran from the crowd); or mundane (“having coffee then off to the gym”).
Tweets also allow the user to share interesting stories, websites or articles on the web. On such an occasion, a user would post a tweet with the web address (URL) of the article. However, many URLs are long and have more than 140 characters alone. To solve this dilemma services that shorten the URL by replacing it with a smaller URL web address appeared. TinyURL was the first service to appear in 2002 and shortly thereafter over 100 similar sites followed. This service has not been without its problems. Consumer Reports yesterday cited a growing issue with some of these URL shortening sites: a bait and switch. Instead of the reader being directed to the intended article or link, the reader is being misdirected to a spam site or other malicious destinations. Last month Computerworld reported that a hacker hacked into Cligs a URL shortening site and misdirected 2.2 million users to the destination of his choice. Fortunately, the redirection went to a blog rather than a malicious site. The Cligs incident emphasizes the risk inherent in using these URL shortening sites.
In May of this year, Twitter changed its default shortener from TinyURL to its competitor, Bit.ly. However, caution must still be used when using a shortened URL or when clicking on its link, as security is never absolute on the web. If at all possible post the full URL and keep your introduction short. After all, brevity is the point of Twitter.