Your Office Doesn't Like URL Shorteners. Now What?

Bit.ly is a popular URL shortener with a difference – it allows you to track links. This is very useful for many Twitter users and Bit.ly has a smidge over thirteen per cent of the URL shortening market share (behind the wildly popular, but less useful, TinyURL).

Bit.ly

I use Bit.ly, for two reasons. One, it’s built into TweetDeck, and two, from time to time I find the link-tracking part of the service extremely useful (for example, if I’m using Twitter to promote a guest post I have written and don’t have access to that web site’s traffic).

However, this week I changed to another URL shortener (is.gd) and here’s why: with increased frequency, Bit.ly is being blocked at places of work.

Nobody seems to know why; it just is. And it’s escalating. Some folk close to their IT team have said that Bit.ly is being marked as a ‘malicious website’. Others are saying it’s being universally blocked by Websense.

Unless rectified, the reason why isn’t actually all that important; I’ve had enough folk approach me and say something along the lines of, “Please stop using Bit.ly, as I can no longer access your Twitter links at work,” for me to switch to somebody else.

I even raised a ticket about the issue at Bit.ly’s feedback page. Bit.ly responded saying that Websense accidentally flagged them, and the issue is now resolved. I hope that’s true, but even so I’m not sure it’s the end of the issue.

The reality is, URL shorteners, while very convenient for users on Twitter (as well as many other services where ridiculously long URLs are a problem), are a real pain for offices, as well as search engines like Google and social media sites like Reddit and Digg. And the reason why is simple: nobody really knows what’s on the other end of that link until you click on it.

On Twitter we learn to trust the shared content of certain users and know that any URL shortener they use is not going to forward us onto a porn site, virus installer, or worse. But our bosses don’t know that. And their bosses don’t know that.

Moreover, people make typos. Bad URLs can easily be shared with just one wrong keystroke. Even the best of us can make mistakes. In short, some people think URL shorteners suck.

Which has me thinking: if Bit.ly can’t reverse this, is TinyURL next? Is every URL shortener on the chopping block?

Because if you really think about it: the arguments why URL shorteners are actually not that good for the internet are kind of sound. Sure, nice guys like you and I are not going to abuse these facilities (the odd Rick Roll aside). But for spammers, trolls, porn merchants, multi-level marketers and all the other n’er do wells out there, they present a genuine point of opportunity/vulnerability (delete as appropriate).

It’s true that the new version of TweetDeck includes a short URL previewer, and I imagine this will become the norm within the majority of Twitter clients soon enough. Maybe even Twitter.com as well. I mean, it really should.

Maybe Joshua Schachter is right: if Twitter is going to insist on a 140 character limit, perhaps they need to produce their own inbuilt URL shortening system. But unless it’s going to come with a virus and spam checker, as well as some kind of filter (possibly determined by the user themselves in terms of what they don’t want to see), it really won’t be any different to anything else.

And will it ever be enough for our bosses? Somehow, I doubt it, because the decision on whether to click on that link, good or bad, remains with the user, and I wonder if before too long, every URL shortener out there is going to be a no-no for Twitter. And maybe everybody else.

Unless, of course, you really don’t care about that office-pegged, global user base five days of every week.

(You may like to read my follow-up to this article, “Worried About Clicking On A Short URL? Try LinkNark.”)