119

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.

25
  • What's your evidence for point 1?
    – ChrisF Mod
    Sep 14, 2010 at 14:40
  • 2
    @ChrisF I've seen it before as well. Sep 14, 2010 at 14:41
  • 2
    @George: waffles' comment. Yeah, it's meta, but it's also a proof-of-concept. Sep 14, 2010 at 14:46
  • 1
    related: [Shall we spam-flag lmgtfy-links? ](meta.stackexchange.com/questions/64453/…) Sep 14, 2010 at 14:54
  • 9
    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). Sep 14, 2010 at 15:00
  • 1
    @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. Sep 14, 2010 at 15:10
  • 9
    @Bobby: Whew! I've been pretty outspoken against LMGTFY, so I was bracing myself for some embarrassment. :) Sep 14, 2010 at 15:16
  • 2
    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? Sep 14, 2010 at 17:02
  • 1
    A big thanks, btw, fir the flagged posts. Sep 14, 2010 at 17:43
  • 1
    @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? Aug 19, 2013 at 8:35
  • 4
    What is "LMGTFY"? Did you use some sort of sentence-shortening service? ;-)
    – Spudley
    Aug 19, 2013 at 9:17
  • 5
    @Spudley: Wait, let me answer that with a simple link.... ;) And now you know why we hate it...I hope. Aug 19, 2013 at 9:18
  • 1
    @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, 2013 at 9:26
  • 2
    long URL's dont fit in comments tinyurl.com/zaz9lha Jan 13, 2017 at 23:37
  • 1
    @TonyStewart Comments should never contain important information, they are for clarification only. And if that is done, the question/answer should be edited to include that information. Jan 14, 2017 at 9:26

13 Answers 13

42
+500

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

http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2008/10/obscenity-filters-bad-idea-or-incredibly-intercoursing-bad-idea.html

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.

7
  • 30
    Short-links are for Twitter, not SO.
    – Emil
    Sep 27, 2010 at 18:30
  • 2
    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, 2010 at 12:47
  • 12
    @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. Feb 20, 2011 at 23:23
  • 1
    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. Feb 24, 2011 at 14:56
  • Shortened links, are, well, short. It's quite good heuristic to skip matching against shortener blacklist if links are longer. Nov 13, 2013 at 15:37
  • 12
    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, 2013 at 15:15
  • 2
    Or Use flogging to enforce it? Some links are painfully long, though. What if you only allow shorteners that let you see the actual before clicking, e.g., preview.tinyurl.com/_____
    – WGroleau
    Sep 23, 2014 at 13:58
37

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.

11
  • You don't think Libya is a good top level domain? ;-)
    – Arjan
    Feb 21, 2011 at 10:15
  • @Arjan It's just fine if you ignore the current unrest there... centernetworks.com/libya-shuts-down-the-internet-domains
    – Pollyanna
    Feb 21, 2011 at 14:21
  • 2
    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, 2011 at 17:16
  • 2
    @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.
    – Pollyanna
    Feb 21, 2011 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, 2011 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.
    – Pollyanna
    Feb 22, 2011 at 0:47
  • 1
    "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? Feb 23, 2011 at 13:14
  • @The No, my bounty is meant to bring the issue up again and request that Jeff reconsider his stance.
    – Pollyanna
    Feb 23, 2011 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. Feb 23, 2011 at 14:42
  • @The Oh, I use bounties for many other things too...
    – Pollyanna
    Feb 23, 2011 at 17:05
24
+500

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.

5
  • 8
    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? Sep 14, 2010 at 14:48
  • 1
    Currently comments can only post 600 characters. And links are often ridiculously long, e.g. the link of this current page is over 90 characters. (Indeed many many links are over 100 characters long.) By usability-right, the system should not include url characters into the 600 character limit, A short URL is a good stopgap solution to this problem. It also serves as a good stopgap solution to the url scheme problem.
    – Pacerier
    Sep 24, 2014 at 11:58
  • @Pacerier It would actually make a good feature-request to not count URL characters. OTOH 600 characters is quite a lot and comments shouldn't become exhaustive on non-meta sites. And many URLs can be stripped of referral and meta stuff after the ? and &s Sep 24, 2014 at 12:01
  • Indeed it has already been requested, but I wouldn't bet that it will get much traction. 600 char limit may be about right if it doesn't count URL chars. But if we include URL chars, comments with multiple links in them easily exceed 600 chars even though they may be non-exhaustive. And there are many cases whereby the meta stuff after ? and & is required in a link...................................................................
    – Pacerier
    Sep 24, 2014 at 15:20
  • ........e.g. when we want to link to the 45th second of a certain youtube video, or when we want to link to a certain direction in google maps. Also, in cases when these meta stuff is optional, not many people know how to hand edit URLs to safely remove them, e.g. changing this link (401 chars) to its shorter version of 364 chars. People simply copy whatever link they have in their url bar and paste that. If short URLs were banned, this very comment would need a few more posts to complete since there is 765 total chars in the unshortened links.
    – Pacerier
    Sep 24, 2014 at 15:21
20

Automated blocking or rewriting is probably never going to happen; as Jeff notes, that gets quite expensive.

But there's some educational value in limited blocking of specific, popular shorteners. We've been trying this out on Stack Overflow for a few months now, and the results have generally been positive.

So I've blocked a few common shorteners network-wide (with the exception of this site):

  • bit.ly
  • ow.ly
  • goo.gl
  • tinyurl.com
  • adf.ly

These are ONLY blocked in post bodies (unlike SO where they're blocked everywhere); I have no desire to handle a lot of complaints about this, since updating the rules on 300+ sites can be a bit error-prone. Let's hope the educational value is sufficient here.

3
  • 1
    If someone tries to edit a post that contains a shortened URL that was added before this change was made, will they be prompted to remove it before they can submit the edit? Jul 22, 2018 at 8:23
  • Yes, they are prompted (I just tried it). Also, it seems the shortened urls are being banned not only in text and hyperlinks, but also in code blocks! Why are they being banned in code? Jun 5, 2019 at 19:36
  • I was just now able to bypass the ban using HTML entities, so the blacklist is effectively useless. Jun 5, 2019 at 19:44
13

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.

8
  • 4
    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... Sep 14, 2010 at 14:50
  • Good point about the ban list, but Tobias's comment is pretty convincing.
    – Pops
    Sep 14, 2010 at 16:19
  • 2
    @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. :( Sep 14, 2010 at 16:51
  • @Tobias Kienzler: Wait, did you just call me a monkey because I'm editing my way through the search results? ;) Sep 14, 2010 at 17:15
  • 1
    @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. Sep 15, 2010 at 7:47
  • @Bobby: what? whoops, no! Sep 15, 2010 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 Sep 15, 2010 at 8:16
  • 1
    @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). Sep 15, 2010 at 8:34
10

As ArchiveTeam says, URL shorteners are a ticking bomb in the WWW.

An answer or question linking an URL shortener has a way lower value than it would have if it contained the full URL. It's at risk of losing meaning at any moment and, consistently with the practice to discourage link-only answers because the link target might vary, such URLs should be discouraged.

Similarly, Wikimedia projects already block URL shorteners on sight. Sure, some work for a while, but in the end they are blocked. SE already has a ban in place to force usage of "example.org" and friends in the examples, so why not do the same for URL shorteners?

Also, if you care about the issue, remember to help 301Works.org and URLTeam (e.g. by adding more shorteners to the wiki page and by running an ArchiveTeam Warrior).

Finally, it's not 2010 any longer, and an INSANELY EXPENSIVE HTTP REQUEST for every link could be performed by Internet Archive's Archive-It service with a minor contribution from StackExchange's budget to ensure that every link is preserved in the long term (or at least any link which survives the first line of defense against spamming for a day or two). Internet Archive preserves a billion web pages per week. :)

8

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!

1
  • The problem is that if goo.gl is banned, a significant number of people will use an alternative. And this is not good, because while goo.gl links may have near 99% certainty of future existence, the alternative links will have a (much) lower certainty of future existence, giving us broken links.
    – Pacerier
    Sep 24, 2014 at 15:16
7

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.

7
  • 4
    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, 2010 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, 2010 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, 2010 at 19:25
  • 2
    @Mark meta.stackexchange.com/questions/71108/…
    – badp
    Nov 29, 2010 at 9:12
  • So URL shorteners should be allowed as a workaround to a site policy? Either those protocols are unwanted, hence that's one more reason to ban URL shorteners; or they are wanted, hence they should be whitelisted. Protocol whitelists exist, it's not that hard.
    – Nemo
    May 4, 2015 at 7:05
  • @nemo we do not have control on the protocol whitelist on this site.
    – badp
    May 4, 2015 at 7:11
  • @badp, true, SE is not free software. However, I'm not convinced that allowing a policy loophole is a good solution to having an unflexible policy. I prefer policies which make sense. :)
    – Nemo
    May 4, 2015 at 7:34
4

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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  • 10
    -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, 2010 at 16:08
  • 7
    I'm all for banning tools. Users that are tools. Sep 14, 2010 at 16:23
  • @Pops, There are benefits to shorteners, as demonstrated by meta.stackexchange.com/questions/64450/… and meta.stackexchange.com/questions/64450/…
    – Pacerier
    Sep 24, 2014 at 15:24
4

Years later, this is . At least on SO. No other sites have the ban, not even the localized SO sites (Japanese, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish).

The solution is not retroactive, so there are still many posts that have these link shorteners (but refuse your edits unless you remove them).

I have set out to remove them as described in Removing link shorteners from posts!

From my experience there, I will tell you it was a good idea to block these links. Many of them have resulted in irreversible link rot, sometimes ruining the question/answer.

I would like to see a similar thing on other sites to prevent similar problems.

3

I often use URL shortenening when it's impossible to use a regular link.

[Example][1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Closure_(computer_science)

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 Sep 14, 2010 at 15:16
  • 4
    Works [just fine](en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Closure_(computer_science%29) when you replace the last parenthesis in the URL with the escape sequence %29.
    – Pops
    Sep 14, 2010 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. Sep 14, 2010 at 16:20
  • 4
    @Popular So I should start memorizing html entity codes? Sep 14, 2010 at 16:44
  • 1
    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. Sep 14, 2010 at 16:48
  • 3
    @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 Sep 14, 2010 at 16:48
  • 3
    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, 2010 at 18:00
  • 1
    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, 2010 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, 2010 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, 2013 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, 2013 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, 2013 at 1:56
2

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.

A constructed but realistic example (taken from this post of mine) would be the following comment, which is too long by 10 characters unless one uses a URL shortening service:

You can use a SaxSource constructed from an InputSource if you want to transform a SAX event stream.

4
  • 3
    This means that the link address in []() syntax should not count into the comment length. Because that is the keystone here.
    – yo'
    Mar 25, 2013 at 10:22
  • @tohecz, Yea, see meta.stackexchange.com/questions/64450/…
    – Pacerier
    Sep 24, 2014 at 15:25
  • @yo' is right. However, the ban could be restricted to answers and questions, which have no length limit and should be written for the long-term.
    – Nemo
    May 3, 2015 at 10:57
  • I wish I could upvote this like 5 times. Jan 12, 2017 at 4:16
1

Please unban the goo.gl shortener. It's only valid for Google services, so it really can't be misused, and it's the only way to get shareable links to Google Maps, which is very useful over at Travel.SE, particularly for giving directions or sharing exact locations.

4
  • goo.gl appear to be shut down, so it's pointless to unban it. There are still tons of "bad" links. Oct 17, 2018 at 10:22
  • @ShadowWizard It's not open to random users, but Google services like Maps still generate goo.gl links when sharing. Here's one from Maps generated right now: goo.gl/maps/2GdZmA9tPrR2 Oct 17, 2018 at 10:29
  • So perhaps make it a per site thing, e.g. no need for this on sites other than Travel. Oct 17, 2018 at 10:31
  • @jpatokal You can still get and use the long link, though. Oct 17, 2018 at 16:39

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