May 3, 2016: I discovered that longurl.org no longer works. Can’t ping or browse to it. So, I removed the links to it and thought I’d mention it in this post.
Due to the limited length of 140 characters Twitter allows in a status update or tweet, the use of URL shortening services and short URLs has become a necessary evil. I don’t know about you but I am NOT going to just blindly click on some gobbledygook looking short URL without knowing exactly where it’s going to take me before hand. It’s just too easy to hide links to malicious websites this way. Luckily there are a number of ways to preview where these short URLs are going to send you.
December 18, 2011: Well, now that Twitter is wrapping every URL with its t.co shortening service, including those already shortened with other services, it has thrown a monkey wrench into this whole thing. Some Twitter applications that used to preview short URLs may no longer work fully or as expected. The problem is that when Twitter wraps an already short URL with t.co it causes two redirections to occur before reaching the final destination (example: t.co redirects to bit.ly which then redirects to the original long URL). Longurl.org does still work as it seems to keep trying until it reaches a URL that no longer redirects. Now, according to Twitter it does try to protect users by not directly going to sites that might be questionable. Thankfully, Twitter’s own website will still show the final destination in a tool-tip when the mouse hovers over a link.
January 14, 2011: For those that are using Twitter’s newer website interface, it will now preview a short URL in a tooltip when hovering the mouse over a link. This even works with my custom URL shortening service as mentioned below.
Initally, Twitter used Tinyurl by default to shorten long URLs when it had seen fit. (Update July 9, 2010: Twitter is working on implementing their own service: t.co that is only used with Direct Messages for now.) Even so, Tinyurl has a preview option that you can set on their site. I would advise enabling it. Then, when you click on a Tinyurl link it will take you to Tinyurl’s website first where it shows you the long URL associated with the short URL which you can then click if you so choose.
Unfortunately, this only works for Tinyurl links. Many other URL shortening services are also used: tr.im, is.gd, bit.ly, ping.fm and who knows how many others. This is where longurl.org comes to the rescue! Using this site, you can expand just about any shortened URL and it will let you preview where it goes. For this to work, you do have to copy and paste the short URL first. This site will even work with personally created short URLs as long as they use a standard Redirection. For example it will show that http://mhurl.com/000 goes to http://blog.markheadrick.com/2009/03/15/a-nascar-inspired-destroytwitter-theme/
(Update April 14, 2010: It appears that the longurl.org website is no longer functional. As such, I have since written my own PHP script that does the same thing as far as showing where any URL gets redirected to, removing my need to rely on any 3rd party. April 20, 2010: The site appears to be back up.)
The above two methods are universal in nature and should work no matter how you Twitter. Luckily there are alternative ways that are more convenient and I’ll let you know about the one’s I’ve tried.
For Firefox users, you’ll want to check out the following:
LongURL Mobile Expander: The LongURL Moblie Expander uses longurl.org’s web service to display a tooltip with the expanded URL when the mouse hovers over a known short URL service link on a web page. This is handy when viewing Twitter pages in the browser.
- Update June 29, 2009: version 2.0.0 of this plug-in no longer seems to work correctly, at least in FireFox 3.0.11
- Update July 9, 2009: Please see this post to find out how I got it working again.
- Update January 21, 2010: Author posted Experimental Version 2.0.1 which corrects the issues. This version is not yet directly compatible with Firefox 3.6, however.
Long URL Please: This plug-in replaces the short URL with the expanded URL in the webpage itself. This one uses the longurlplease.com API to determine the destinations from known services. I have been using this one after LongURL Mobile Expander quit working on me.
Echofon (aka TwitterFox): Twitter client add-on that will show the expanded URL in a tooltip when the mouse hovers over a known short URL service link. I say “known” because these will not show expanded links from unknown services or personally created short URLs.
Stand-alone Twitter Clients with Short URL preview abilities:
TweetDeck: If you set the option to Show preview information for short URLs in the general settings tab, it will display a preview dialog with the expanded URL after you click on a link. This only works with known short URL services. My shortened link does not preview. (Update December 18, 2011: The current stand-alone version of Tweetdeck available from the website that Twitter released, which does not use Adobe Air, no longer previews short URLs other than long URLs directly shortened with t.co. The older Adobe Air version 0.38.2 still previews short URLs even when wrapped by t.co.)
DestroyTwitter: Version 2.1.2 released on September 16, 2010 introduced a URL preview ability. When you ALT-Left Click on a link it will preview the URL for you. This will work with ANY link as best I can tell. It will even preview my shortened link and display both the title and expanded URL. In this aspect, DestroyTwitter beats all the other Twitter clients I have tried.
I am sure there are other Twitter clients that have built-in preview abilities (no, I’m not going to download and try everything that exists), just make sure you enable it if they have the option. With that, have a happy and safe twitter experience.