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Is it OK to present a URL using a link shortening service such as bit.ly? The reason I'm asking is that I think it's a lot easier to enter this URL (e.g., if you read it in a paper) as opposed to full URL. Or is this a bad idea?

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    you mean when writing a paper ? – Suresh May 5 '12 at 22:30
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    In some countries, such shortened URLs are blocked (all of them, regardless of what they link to). – David Ketcheson May 6 '12 at 14:55
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    @DavidKetcheson whoa, did not know that, thanks! – Dmitri Nesteruk May 6 '12 at 18:11
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    Many Universities will help you forward links such as university.org/YourLink and that may simplify things. – bobthejoe May 7 '12 at 1:14
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    @grunwald2.0: It's not about where you as the author live, it's where possible readers live. By using a link shortening service, you may be excluding e.g. Chinese researchers from making sense of your paper. – O. R. Mapper Feb 20 '15 at 14:46
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You should never offer a link shortener as the only option in an academic paper, for two reasons:

  1. It's adding another point of failure: if the shortening service is down, then the link cannot be followed. This is a particular worry over time, since the service may go out of business.

  2. One of the big reasons why link shorteners are so popular is that they keep track of usage statistics. I'd be offended if I thought an author was using this to monitor when the link was followed, where the people following it were located, etc.

So if you offer a shortened URL, it should only be in addition to the real URL, not in place of it. However, I'd tend to avoid even that. It doesn't look professional to me, and I don't think there's much savings for the reader. (Online papers should have clickable URLs, or at least ones that can be copied and pasted, so this only arises for someone who has a printed copy but no online copy. That can happen, but it's hardly a major issue.)

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    Re #2, in today's Internet tracking is done by any good web server (Google Analytics is often enabled). I don't see shorteners as being worse. However, as one of my students pointed out, you might have a profile on the shortener's site (e.g., bit.ly) and others will find out (if you aren't careful to make things private) what other links you have shared. – Fuhrmanator Mar 5 '13 at 20:12
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    @Fuhrmanator: That's a good point, but one thing link shorteners can do is give you data on who follows your link to someone else's URL, where you have no access to the server. – Anonymous Mathematician Mar 5 '13 at 23:43
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    Regarding privacy, just because other people are tracking me doesn't mean I should let authors do it too. As for bit.ly and goo.gl never going down, that may be true now, but it's not guaranteed everywhere (for comparison, tinyurl was blocked in Saudi Aradia) or always (once popular services have been shut down in suboptimal ways after they became less popular, losing data that could have been preserved but wasn't). – Anonymous Mathematician Feb 5 '15 at 4:46
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    @Ooker, "notorious shorteners like bit.ly or goo.gl will never go down" and even if they go down, you can track URLs down using search engines such as AltaVista or Lycos which are even less likely to go down. – el.pescado Jul 30 '15 at 20:50
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    @Phil: Anyone can track you when you visit their web site, but URL shorteners allow them to track your visits to third-party sites (if you follow the shortened link). When I download something from an author's web site, I know they are probably tracking it, but I'd be irritated if an author shortened all links to other people's sites so they could track those too. – Anonymous Mathematician Jul 30 '15 at 21:26
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Short answer: It depends!

Long answer: Shortlinks are very useful when space is essential, i.e. when advertising something on twitter. Futhermore, they can often be used for analytics which some of those services offer.

Otherwise, it is often better to provide a full link. It looks more professional and gives more information. Since it is a link, it does not need to be typed in, so it might even be better to show a description instead of the link. The full domain also allows users to decide if they want to follow since it gives additional authenticity when the domain is well known. A lot of shortened urls lead to spam sites, or sites that try to introduce trojans.

6

A better alternative is to use a DOI if one is available. The providers of a DOI are supposed to ensure that the DOI is always up to date and points to the correct resource and as such a DOI is a better insurance against link rot than the original URL itself. DOIs are available for most recent papers (at least the ones I know of) as well as data etc. hosted on for example figshare and Zenodo. Apart from such resources, DOIs are generally not available and in that case I also recommend using the original URL directly.

  • What software support is there for this? – Dmitri Nesteruk Jul 31 '15 at 10:06
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    The issue is not so much software as paying the required fees to the CrossRef organization to register a DOI. Most publishers now do this routinely for all of their papers, but it's not typical for individuals to be able to register their own DOI's. – Brian Borchers Jul 31 '15 at 16:05
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I'm not sure what you mean when you say it's easier to enter. If someone is reading the paper online, it's a click (in the PDF) either way. And as @AM points out, link rot can then get you in two ways instead of one. In fact you should in general be leery about linking to URLs in a paper unless you have some belief that the URL will persist for the life of the paper itself.

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I have no problem with shortening a link. In a paper, you won't risk your reputation just to have a spam or contained virus link, therefore people won't need to worry about the security. Also, I don't know if other services have this feature, but you can make an customized link as long as it is unique.

For example, this was my link to my dissertation: bit.ly/epHIVprotease. (Need not to follow it, I have pulled it down)

Anyone in my field will immediately understand what it says: electrostatic potential of a HIV protease. So it's also looked professional, I think.

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    So it may be great for a poster (I did it a few times). But not for a paper, for reasons pointed out by Anonymous Mathematician. – Piotr Migdal Jul 23 '14 at 17:57
  • Yeah. It should be good for a printed paper or a poster or a presentation. But if you are worry about the server, you can choose goo.gl. It'll never die :D – Ooker Jul 23 '14 at 18:01
  • Especially for a poster, I don't see the point. If you want people with mobile devices to directly follow links from your poster, add a QR code to the full URL next to the human-readable full URL rather than going via some third-party shortening service. – O. R. Mapper Feb 20 '15 at 14:51
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    @Ooker: Where I live, QR codes are commonly found in many public places - public transportation stops (pointing to extended itinerary information), ad posters and displays (pointing to the company website), store fronts (pointing to the online shop or whatever), business cards (replicating the info printed on the card), public wifi hotspots (pointing to the sign up page), etc. In real life, I see nothing that supports your claim. – O. R. Mapper Jul 31 '15 at 19:37
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    Why did you take it down? The fact that the link is dead undercuts your answer, don't you think? – JeffE Jul 31 '15 at 20:19

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