The culture of sharing interesting things on the web has spawned a technique called URL shortening, particularly useful for services like Twitter or Identi.ca which place a limit on the length of a message. The URL (or Uniform Resource Locator) is shortened to reduce its length and save a few characters, and the shortened URL redirects to the original link. The shortened link however, does not reveal any information about the original link, but replaces it with a short domain name (such as goo.gl or bit.ly) followed by an alphanumeric string. This masking of the original URL can pose some serious security concerns, making the user susceptible to a host of phishing attacks, spam and malware infections. Moreover, since the short URL is created and maintained by the URL shortening service, there are chances that URL could stop working if the service shuts down. ISPs have been known to block shortened URLs in the past, stating security concerns.To remedy this, Himanshu Joshi came up with the novel idea called ‘ILoveLongURL’ which essentially reverse engineers a shortened URL, giving you not only the original ‘long’ URL, but also user ratings of the website based on its trustworthiness, vendor reliability, privacy and even child safety. The interface is dead simple, and returns accurate results within seconds. The service uses the LongUrl.org API to bring back the original URL and uses ratings from the Web of Trust (WOB), a free, community based tool to rank websites on their safety and reliability.
What’s more, the service even goes as far as to outline some of the potential risks involved with using shortened URL indiscriminately and has a guide on some safe browsing practices. While I Love Long URL doesn’t do anything revolutionary, it certainly aggregates a few useful services under one roof.
We got in touch with Himanshi Joshi, the creator of I Love Long URL and had a chat with him:
What was the motivation behind Ilovelongurl.com?
It’s been a long time since the internet started and one thing that is consistently increasing with the internet user base is spam. It has changed forms over the years and has become riskier in the recent times. In September 2010, more than 300 million systems were affected by a short URL originating from bit.ly. I have also been getting spam mails from the email ids of my friends. It is very difficult sometimes to find out whether the short URL given in the mail is authentic or not. So I thought of a service called as ilovelongurl.com. I used LongURL.org and mywot.com APIs and combined them to make a powerful tool.
What are the potential threats of blindly using shortened urls?
How does the service work?
This is a simple service that works on the APIs provided by longurl.org and mywot.com. Whenever the page receives a short URL, it passes on the details to both Longurl and Mywot. It also tries to get the description and title of the website by visiting the website on the back-end. Once all the three are ready, it formats the results so that the user can understand them (images for ratings instead of numbers and codes) and displays them.
Do you plan to integrate this service into a twitter client or create a browser add-on/ bookmarklet?
I have planned further development for the service on these lines:
1. A firefox add-on that will enable the user to check out for the website behind just by right clicking the URL.
2. A Chrome plugin that will do the same functionality as above.
3. A bot for GTalk and other messengers wherein the user can send the URL to it and get the details in return. The returns will, however, be plain characters and not images as they are shown on the website.
- Paanini Navilekar