TinyURL and services alike provide Internet users with an advantageous service to shorten the URLs that they like to refer to. For instance the European Commission website on the E-Commerce Directive: ‘http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/e-commerce/directive_en.htm’ can be shortened to ‘http://tinyurl.com/uRL’. TinyURL is probably the most popular website providing shortened URLs, other providers include: shortURL, Metamark and shurl.org. Shortened URLs have proven to be very handy if one wants to refer to websites in SMS text messages or while micro-blogging on Twitter. There is a trend to also use shorter URLs in scientific publications, probably in order to have a clean body of footnotes. This blog post discusses some cons of using TinyURL and services alike in legal or scientific publications.
More and more information that could be relevant for scientific research, is being published on the Internet. One could think of reports by research institutes or governmental institutions, articles by legal scholars on SSRN, but also blogs that are maintained by law professors on which they spout their thoughts on recent developments in their field. Especially in the United States, law professors are maintaining blogs, for example in the field of information law: Lawrence Lessig, Jonathan Zittrain, Tech Law Profs etc.
It’s not a surprise that legal scholars are increasingly referring to information on the Internet, generally by noting a URL in their footnotes. Because URLs often consist of long sets of characters that are hard to identically retype for readers of a publication, writers use services like TinyURL.
General objections against the use of TinyURL
A TinyURL doesn’t give a clue as to the website that you will be visiting, it doesn’t provide elements to determine the trustworthiness of a website. Judging by the domain, where would you rather pick up a virus: http://www.microsoft.com or http://tinyurl.com/dk9apc? Phishing-websites aren’t using TinyURLs without reason. It is easy to see that these practices hurt TinyURL’s reputation. Luckily, TinyURL and some similar services have now implemented a preview function that enables Internet users to preview a URL that has been shortened. See for instance: http://preview.tinyurl.com/dk9apc. Unfortunately this is just an option and has not been raised to a standard yet.
Specific objections against the use of TinyURL in legal or scientific publications
Once a TinyURL has been set up, it is impossible to change the URL that the TinyURL is linking to. A function that enables users to change the URL that the TinyURL is linking to, would be very helpful to academia. A TinyURL then becomes a variable in a static legal or scientific publication, which could turn out useful if for instance a website has moved from one URL to another. Publicists would then be able to control their links after their work has been published. For instance, a broken link could be corrected after a publication has appeared in a legal or scientific journal. Unfortunately such a function is currently lacking in TinyURL.
To put it briefly, don’t use TinyURLs or URLS by similar services in your publications!