We use link shorteners everywhere – from Twitter to even bunching up multiple links in one. A long URL (and they seem to be getting longer everyday) are unwieldy and too much of a bother to even copy and paste. They also tend to break into multiple lines in emails, text messages and status updates. So far so good…but link shorteners have one slight flaw. You cannot make out from the URL what’s behind it. Is it the genuine site or does an internet trap of a malware infection awaits you? Or it could be anything from a spammy link to one advertising online dates.
Some services like Tiny URL come with a preview feature that reveals the shortened links. In case you get a shortened link and want to be sure where it points to, try out these three useful tools to reveal the shortened links.
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Unshorten.It is a web app that reveals the long form of a URL when you paste a shortened link in the field box. Keep it bookmarked if you are a user of Twitter and other services like Digg which use shortened links. The site gives you browser add-ons for Chrome and Firefox.
As you can see from the screenshot, Unshorten.It also displays information on the title and description tags of the target web page, a screenshot of the target website, safety ratings from Web of Trust and an alert if the website is found in the HPHosts blacklist. Do note that the blacklist is a freely downloadable community managed host’s file for ad and malware site blocking, so a relatively unknown site may not be mentioned. The thumbnails also may not show up sometimes, but it is not really a problem as the WOT ratings and the long form URL should be your main concern.
The similar sounding Unshorten.com is more barebones when it comes to function. While the previous site did not mention this, Unshorten says it supports short URLs from TinyURL.com, SnipURL.com, NotLong.com, Metamark.net, zURL.ws and many others. It is a more minimal service as it simply gives you the longer URL to examine and click through.
Xpnd.It (UPDATE: This tool is no longer available) is a nifty Firefox add-on that decodes a short link from more than 500 services and expands it to its long form in a tiny preview box when you hover over the link. It is quite fast – and as the add-on page says, the service uses local caching plus three layers of remote caching on the server-side. On your end you can flag a potentially harmful link by clicking on the +flag as malicious! link in the preview box.
These three services which give you the truth behind shortened links by revealing the full URL could be your first line of defense in the digital Wild West. Do you have a service which you use? Place it in the comments.