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Related: Ban LMGTFY links | Shall we spam-flag lmgtfy-links? | URL Shorteners cleanup

Ban URL shorting services from being used in questions/answers. I have three major reasons to request this:

  1. It's abused to hide LMGTFY-Links (interestingly, this behavior ranges from the 20 rep Newcomer to the 50K User)
  2. It's used for inlined links, which negatively affects usability (I can't see where the link is taking me)
  3. It's used instead of proper formatting

As requested by ChrisF, a few examples of misuse (all removed by now):

Update as of 19th Aug '13: In the light of the recent spam attacks on several SE sites, Id' like to suggest to reconsider the stance on this.

Those spam attacks are mostly enabled by the fact that the spammers can hide behind shortened URLs (goo.gl in this case), making blacklisting of the original URL impossible. Banning at least the most well-known services would force spammers to use their original URL (or would block the attack as a whole), making it easier to directly target them.

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What's your evidence for point 1? –  ChrisF Sep 14 '10 at 14:40
@ChrisF I've seen it before as well. –  George Stocker Sep 14 '10 at 14:41
@ChrisF: I've used up my 10 Mod-Flags on SO for this today, but hold on a sec, I'll get you some exmaples. –  Time Traveling Bobby Sep 14 '10 at 14:43
@George: waffles' comment. Yeah, it's meta, but it's also a proof-of-concept. –  Tobias Kienzler Sep 14 '10 at 14:46
related: [Shall we spam-flag lmgtfy-links? ](meta.stackexchange.com/questions/64453/…) –  Tobias Kienzler Sep 14 '10 at 14:54
@George I was thinking of the 50K rep user - who should know better –  ChrisF Sep 14 '10 at 14:56
Just out of curiosity, what 50K moderator used a URL shortener to hide a LMGTFY link? I'm the only mod that I know of in that range and I'm reasonably sure I've never posted a LMGTFY link on SO (but I drink, so I guess it's possible that I posted one and forgot). –  Bill the Lizard Sep 14 '10 at 15:00
@Bill the Lizard: It was around 50K, 49 or 48 maybe. I wondered that myself, flagged it none the less and I can't find it right now anymore. Oh, sorry, I wasn't talking diamond here, just a normal user with that much reputation. –  Time Traveling Bobby Sep 14 '10 at 15:10
@Bobby: Whew! I've been pretty outspoken against LMGTFY, so I was bracing myself for some embarrassment. :) –  Bill the Lizard Sep 14 '10 at 15:16
@Bill - +1 cheers –  Peter Ajtai Sep 14 '10 at 15:19
@Bill the Lizard: Sorry, I call everyone above 10k moderator, maybe I should stop doing that. ;) –  Time Traveling Bobby Sep 14 '10 at 15:31
Ok, what's stopping me from setting up a url shortener in one of dozens of domains? Or how do we even keep up with new services that pop up? –  NullUserException อ_อ Sep 14 '10 at 17:02
A big thanks, btw, fir the flagged posts. –  Marc Gravell Sep 14 '10 at 17:43
@M.NightDemonbobby you linked back to this question in "Given the recent spam attacks" - is this intentional, or did you intend to link to some other post? –  Shadow Wizard Aug 19 '13 at 8:35
@M.NightDemonbobby - actually I did know the answer. I was just amused by the irony of using an acronym to describe a problem caused by shortening URLs. Hence the smily at the end of my comment. (that said, it's good that you've posted the link, as no everyone would know it) –  Spudley Aug 19 '13 at 9:26
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9 Answers

up vote 40 down vote accepted

To me, this is the same as trying to ban curse words -- it's a fundamentally broken and bad idea.


For every one we detect (even if we do an INSANELY EXPENSIVE HTTP REQUEST on every unknown URL, which is a completely and utterly ridiculous proposition) and block, others will pop up.

Better, saner, more sustainible to have a policy and use flagging to enforce it. Which incidentally is the same way we approach actual curse words on the site!

Thus, I am declining this as far as automated enforcement of url shorteners goes. It's untenable, period. But of course we encourage people to flag hidden lmgtfy links and we will follow up on those -- the policy is that lmgtfy isn't allowed, and that isn't changing.

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Short-links are for Twitter, not SO. –  Emil Sep 27 '10 at 18:30
I actually want to change my opinion, I like using short URLs, because that gives me access to see how many actually clicked the link. –  Emil Oct 23 '10 at 12:47
@Emil It seems to have little use, as most people will click, see where link goes and immediately close. I will, at least. Although, more often I don't bother to even click. –  Nikita Rybak Feb 20 '11 at 23:23
It /may/ be a nice idea though, to, when you have the edit rights to do so, see a short link, expand it manually yourself and update the edit to reflect the link target. –  Kent Fredric Feb 24 '11 at 14:56
Shortened links, are, well, short. It's quite good heuristic to skip matching against shortener blacklist if links are longer. –  Łukasz 웃 L ツ Nov 13 '13 at 15:37
What? 99% of shortened links come from 10 services, and this is written from the dystopian future where link shortening companies and frameworks run wild as far as this post is concerned. It is not expensive to maintain. –  djechlin Dec 14 '13 at 15:15
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URL shorteners are at some risk of turning into broken links. I'd say that we should have a policy to discourage use of url shorteners, and consider banning the major URL shorteners.

Since it's possible to get the terminating URL from the shortening service, it might be worthwhile instead to implement code to replace them with the final URL when the post is submitted.

This will also eliminate the problem of someone setting a shortened URL to a valid source, then switching it to spam or worse after the question has dropped off the front page.

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You don't think Libya is a good top level domain? ;-) –  Arjan Feb 21 '11 at 10:15
@Arjan It's just fine if you ignore the current unrest there... centernetworks.com/libya-shuts-down-the-internet-domains –  Adam Davis Feb 21 '11 at 14:21
Even before the current events, .ly revoked domain(s?). But then: maybe it's more likely a service stops by itself. Many of us remember Tr.im I guess. –  Arjan Feb 21 '11 at 17:16
@Arjan Yep, while I was at first referencing the current tld ly issues, the reality is that such services really aren't guaranteed. If you start to wonder how they pay for their servers you may start to consider their longevity a bit more seriously. Since they are generally used for ephemeral communication (chat, twitter, etc) then they may not put a high priority on longevity, and I've even seen some services start to re-assign urls in order to keep the overall length short, expiring them after 90 days or so. I don't think they are a good fit for the repository Stack Overflow intends to be. –  Adam Davis Feb 21 '11 at 18:00
(When writing my first comment and its smiley above, I had not yet heard how unbelievable bad the situation in Libya has become today. Very, very sad.) –  Arjan Feb 21 '11 at 22:55
@Arjan Yeah. It makes me feel petty, thinking that I might be inconvenienced if a paltry internet service goes down, compared to what they're dealing with. –  Adam Davis Feb 22 '11 at 0:47
"it might be worthwhile instead to implement code to replace them with the final URL when the post is submitted" @Pollyanna does your 500 Rep Bounty imply that you're asking someone to create code for such a job? –  The Unhandled Exception Feb 23 '11 at 13:14
@The No, my bounty is meant to bring the issue up again and request that Jeff reconsider his stance. –  Adam Davis Feb 23 '11 at 14:17
@Pollyanna yeah after posting that comment, I went through and red a number of questions about Mate Bounties to learn the logic behind posting bounties on questions like this. –  The Unhandled Exception Feb 23 '11 at 14:42
@The Oh, I use bounties for many other things too... –  Adam Davis Feb 23 '11 at 17:05
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Despite my first impulse to down-vote this I must say I do in fact agree. There are certainly advantages of short URLs when you share them in a non-copy-pasteable way, e.g. via SMS or phone, but since this is not the case here, I'm all for it. Especially wrt 3.

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Seriously, what's so hard about clicking that Hyperlink button if one doesn't know the [linktext](http://ur.l "alt text") syntax to produce a nice link? –  Tobias Kienzler Sep 14 '10 at 14:48
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While I agree with the sentiment (I hate the use url shortening services where length isn't relevant), I don't think banning them will do any good. There are dozens of such services, and keeping a ban list up to date will always be a hassle.

Instead I would just suggest we encourage all those with edit privileges to edit out the shortened URL and replace it with a full link.

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Since short-URLs redirect anyway, they could be detected by a simple http-request when posting that link. And edit-monkeying for this stuff is really a bit of a nuisance... –  Tobias Kienzler Sep 14 '10 at 14:50
Good point about the ban list, but Tobias's comment is pretty convincing. –  Pops Sep 14 '10 at 16:19
@Tobias: There are any number of non-shortening-related and perfectly valid uses of an HTTP redirect that might be triggered by a link posted to SO, particularly if it's somebody typing from memory (e.g. lots of sites redirect domainname.tld to www.domainname.tld or vice-versa). Trying to automatically detect them needs an AI. Sadly, I don't have one in my pocket. :( –  Nicholas Knight Sep 14 '10 at 16:51
@Tobias Kienzler: Wait, did you just call me a monkey because I'm editing my way through the search results? ;) –  Time Traveling Bobby Sep 14 '10 at 17:15
@Tobias: Interesting idea. The server could submit the http request and if a redirect occurs just replace the URL directly with the redirect result. @Nicholas: I don't think it matters that there are valid uses of redirect. The server would just auto replace the URL, this would be fine even if it was just resolving dn.tld to www.dn.tld. Of course the cost of the http request would need to be looked at. It could be done async out of the direct path, but it would still add to the server load. It probably depends on how many URLs are posted. –  Simon P Stevens Sep 15 '10 at 7:47
@Bobby: what? whoops, no! –  Tobias Kienzler Sep 15 '10 at 8:12
@Simon, @Nicholas this could maybe turned into a different feature-request: "automatically replace redirecting links with their final destination (excluding SOFU's short permalinks)". Should of course have an infinite loop detection and refuse posting if more than 5 redirection jumps occur –  Tobias Kienzler Sep 15 '10 at 8:16
@Tobias Kienzler: @Jeff Atwood had pointed out (as a comment on an answer which seems to have vanished) that this would take an expensive HTTP-Roundtrip which he isn't willing to spare (which I understand). –  Time Traveling Bobby Sep 15 '10 at 8:34
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URL shorteners can be used to link to schemas different from http:// or ftp://; irc://, mumble://, steam://, mms:// links come for example to mind.

Since I'm not looking forward to give links to these resources as plain text, I'm not looking forward to URL shorteners getting banned.

Some URL shortening services actually block minifying links to non http:// schemas; TinyURL doesn't.

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Wouldn't the solution to this problem be to allow different (safe) URL schemes? And I'm not sure masking non-HTTP URLs with HTTP shorteners is outside the bounds the aforementioned abuse: the expectation is set that they'd be going to a web page, not that they're going to open their IRC client, FTP browser, or whatever else. –  user149432 Sep 14 '10 at 18:49
Very good point. There's even dedicated common URLs such as tinyurl.com/aboutconfig -- but for some reason my Firefox stopped honouring that redirect... –  Arjan Sep 14 '10 at 19:00
@Mark: the post context can very well change your expectation; e.g., "SO has chat room, [click here to join it](irc://irc.freenode.org/stackoverflow/)"; good luck whitelisting all "good" schemas. –  badp Sep 14 '10 at 19:25
@Mark meta.stackexchange.com/questions/71108/… –  badp Nov 29 '10 at 9:12
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You are a bit late with this, specifically tinyurl.com/so-hints has been used many times in the past couple of months or so. The problem here is not the URL shorting service, it is the people that use them. Ban their posts if they abuse it, ban the user for repeat offenses. Don't ban the tool.

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-1, every use of these tools here is an abuse. We're not on twitter; the character limit here is 30,000. As such, there are no benefits to using shorteners. There are cons, though; besides the obfuscation of LMGTFY, someone could obfuscate, say, a site running malicious scripts under a link reading "see the documentation here." –  Pops Sep 14 '10 at 16:08
I'm all for banning tools. Users that are tools. –  Peter Ajtai Sep 14 '10 at 16:23
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I often use URL shortenening when it's impossible to use a regular link.

This is especially true when it comes to comments, where we have to use the [link](url) syntax.

Example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Closure_(computer_science)

(notice the parenthesis)

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@Peter See example –  NullUserException อ_อ Sep 14 '10 at 15:16
Works just fine when you replace the last parenthesis in the URL with the escape sequence %29. –  Pops Sep 14 '10 at 16:17
@NullUserException - I deleted my comment, since I found the reason why URL shortening is useful in comments <== I cannot include that URL w/o shortening. –  Peter Ajtai Sep 14 '10 at 16:20
@Popular So I should start memorizing html entity codes? –  NullUserException อ_อ Sep 14 '10 at 16:44
I'm aware that this is useful for comments, that's why I included mainly answers/questions in my request. Though, that problem with the wiki-link should be reported as bug, imho. –  Time Traveling Bobby Sep 14 '10 at 16:48
@null no, just use one of the other five different ways (other than bare cut and paste) to include URLs, which work fine with parens. See meta.stackoverflow.com/editing-help –  Jeff Atwood Sep 14 '10 at 16:48
And links that might work today, might not have worked in the past. Likewise, how can we be sure no bug will ever keep one from posting a working link? In the rare cases that I did use a URL shortener, it was always because of some Markdown rendering issues. –  Arjan Sep 14 '10 at 18:00
As an aside: for an overview of different ways to add URLs that contain parentheses, and which of those are currently broken in the preview, see Links to URLs containing parentheses –  Arjan Sep 14 '10 at 19:07
@Null, no, I'm not suggesting that. I haven't even memorized it myself, even though I've seen that trick documented multiple times before and I like that link syntax. It took me five tries to get it right so that I could write that comment. I wouldn't have mentioned it, except that you used the word "impossible" instead of "very annoying"; technically, it's not impossible, and I thought people should know. –  Pops Sep 14 '10 at 21:51
@Pops Technically %29 has nothing to do with HTML, it is URL escape sequence. When copy-pasting addresses from Firefox location bar, the parentheses are already URL-encoded. Do the literal parentheses pop up in any other case than manually typing the URL? –  Palec Dec 14 '13 at 18:40
@Palec Good point about the terminology, I fixed it. Not sure what was going on regarding your second question; maybe things worked differently three years ago? –  Pops Dec 14 '13 at 22:35
@Pops I don’t think so. IIRC the browsers only used to display the escape sequences in location bar those days. Now they display them decoded (while internally still using the encoded version). But I must admit a have just a little experience with browsers other than Firefox. –  Palec Dec 15 '13 at 1:56
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I agree that it's impossible to maintain a canonical black-list of URL shortener services. Users will find a way around it, if they wish.

However... I suspect only 5-10% of the users who use short URLs do so in a malicious way. The majority simply think they are superior to normal links (for whatever reason) and might even be surprised to discover we don't like them on Stack Exchange.

Therefore, I see some merit in a scheme that blacklists the 30 top URL shortener sites. The goal is to catch the average user who innocently uses a http://goo.gl/... link and needs reminding that we don't like that.

The remainder, who may just have innocently used an obscure shortening service, can be handled with flagging and what-not. The actual persistent evaders can face some moderator justice.

Don't abandon this scheme simply because you can't achieve 100%. Aim for 90% and be happy with it!

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I often post links in comments which point to a specific fragment in a specific document of a specific documentation. The URL may be quite long that way, which severely limits the amount of useful text I can include in my comment.

If you ban these things, then please also find a way to make URLs in links not count towards the comment length limitation. Otherwise, don't.

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This means that the link address in []() syntax should not count into the comment length. Because that is the keystone here. –  tohecz Mar 25 '13 at 10:22
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