In light of last week’s hack that redirected over 2 million shortened URLs to an unsuspecting blog post, this is a good time to look at how to find how to unmask a shortened web address before clicking on it. After all, malicious web sites could be lurking behind those tiny URLs … or worse.
Let’s start with the platform where you are most likely to find shortened web addresses: Twitter.
When you click on a link from the most recent version of this popular Adobe Air application (which means it runs on Macs, Windows, and Unix/Linux machines), a “preview” pops up and provides enough information for you to decide whether or not to visit the page:
In addition to shortened URLs, if you click on a TwitPic link from within TweetDeck, it shows you a thumbnail of the picture. This feature might save you from the occasional NSFW surprise.
TweetDeck’s link-preview option is turned off by default. Go to the program’s settings and check the box next to “Show preview information for short URLs” to turn it on.
This Mac-only program replaces shortened URLS with only the domain of shortener, which makes tweets easier to read. If you leave your mouse over a link for a couple of second, a small balloon pops up to show you its destination.
If you currently Firefox and twitter.com for your tweeting, you can install the Power Twiter plugin to change the way twitter.com looks and acts. Among its many features, it replaces every shortened URLs with the title, and favicon, of its destination page.
Once you’ve logged into this web-based Twitter client, you’ll see your friends’ recent tweets, just as you’d see them on twitter.com. But under each tweet, Tweetree also shows what it believes to be the title of destination page, along with the domain of the page. You won’t see the complete address of a blog post, but you’ll know whether it’s from mashable.com or wreckMyComputer.com. When possible, Tweetree even embeds linked-to pictures, videos, and sometimes even text right below the links.
No link preview
I took a quick look at some of the more popular Twitter tools and found that these tools do not currently provide previews for shortened URLs:
Tell me: Did I miss something?
If you know of any other Twitter tools that reveal the true destination of shortened URLs, please share them in the comments below. I sincerely hope that I missed a slew of great applications.
Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at tools that reveal shortened URLs outside of Twitter. Feel free to sneak a peek by perusing my collection of URL lengtheners.
Update: Here is my look at more tools to lengthen tiny URLs.
Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing image from Delete via Flickr.