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Even usability specialists can make usability mistakes, but shortened URLS? Really?

As a usability researcher and subscriber to several usability and related issues blogs, podcasts, and email newsletters, I recently received one newsletter email that used a shortened URL (like TinyURL and other services that provide a shorter URL instead of the full URL) to important additional information. I will keep the name of this newsletter private to protect those that should know better. I found this ironic in an email newsletter for a usability company/organization, as this shortened URL are less usable:

  • The name of the site is not included, so they lost the opportunity to provide this information and likely company name. Loss of advertising for them and the knowledge of the site and company for the users.
  • Users have no idea what site they are actually going to. It could be a scam, phising, advertising, or simply a site they would not choose to visit. This violates the rhetoric of departure (users like to look before they leap).
  • Without the URL users cannot easily figure out how to reach the information if the link doesn’t work.
  • Users lose the ability to figure out where they are going and other data about the link–such as file type–and the site structure and thus they are arriving blindly. This also violates the rhetoric of departure. Many users want this information and use it to judge whether they will click on a link.
  • The shorter URL are just ugly (not a usability issue, but still).
  • If a site or application is used to shorten the URL is is possible the shorter URL will not work if the site or application goes down, coupled with other issues (see the second bullet) users then would have a very hard time locating the information.
  • Shortened URL are harder to remember. A bunch of gobbledygook is harder to remember than even a longer URL with key words (http://bit.ly/81YvKm is harder to remember than http://www.screenspace.org/Podposter.html, despite length differences.
  • That what I came up with off the top of my head. Any other issues you see?

Needless to say, I did not click on the link. I may have, if it was the full URL.

Now shortened URL are handy when one has limited space and wants to share a link but are unnecessary, less usable, and frankly silly when one is writing their own newsletter and have unlimited space. A usability organization or company should know better.

Something to say?