When URL shortening results in longer URLs

Sun, Aug 11, 2013

I have previously written about how social networks use URL shortening as a way of obscuring and swallowing information about sharing of content on their platform. In Twitter’s case, this means that all URLs are automatically ‘shortened’ with their t.co domain. All their official clients take this shortening into account when you create a Tweet so as to avoid a round trip across the network to figure out if the tweet is short enough. But what happens if you are posting a URL that does not require any shortening? Something interesting happens.

Remember how tweets are of 140 characters each? Similarly, all URLs piped through t.co are of 22 characters. That means when you post a tweet that has a URL in it, 22 characters get used for the URL. This catch-all shortening results in scenarios like the following:

"Twitter client shortening qz.com"

Typing the 6 characters in qz.com resulted in number of characters left to go from 107 to 85.

There you have it. A URL of 6 characters gets ‘shortened’ to 22 characters. This once again shows how Twitter, like other social networking sites want to control the data about how URLs get shared.