'Human Error' Briefly Kills All Shortened Twitter Links

from the ick dept

Twitter has been trying to push all links through its t.co link shortener system, which is actually quite annoying. It’s experienced some downtime in the past, including earlier this week when a bit of “human error” by the registrar who handles the .co domain made the entire t.co domain dead to the world, basically breaking all of those links. Apparently someone at the registrar responded to a phishing complaint by accidentally killing the entire domain… and with it countless URLs. As security researcher Mikko Hypponen pointed out in response to all of this:

t․co downtime illustrates how shortlinks make the web more fragile and harder to archive.

Indeed. While they’re handy given Twitter’s artificial limits, and can be useful as a poor man’s tracking system for outbound links, on the whole, they seem to cause a lot of problems. Too many times I’ve had links go through multiple shorteners and fail along the way because one of them hiccups.

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Companies: twitter

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Comments on “'Human Error' Briefly Kills All Shortened Twitter Links”

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22 Comments
Zakida Paul says:

Ah, humans

The weakest part of any system because they are stupid and irrational. Any measure taken to make a system better for people makes it less reliable and secure; while any measure taken to make a system more reliable and secure makes it less user friendly. It’s all about balance.

“Programming today is a race between software engineers striving to build bigger and better idiot-proof programs, and the Universe trying to produce bigger and better idiots. So far, the Universe is winning.”

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Ah, humans

Pretty much. One of the unintended consequences of using shortened links is that they introduce a single point of failure where there was no such vulnerability before.

All that happened here is that a huge number of links that would have pointed to a huge number of URLs, ISPs, countries and hosts were redirected through a single one instead, and when that failed, everything did. Hopefully, they were aware of the risks and the balance they made before they made that decision, and it’s up to them to re-evaluate their future strategy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Ah, humans

Hopefully, they were aware of the risks and the balance they made before they made that decision, and it’s up to them to re-evaluate their future strategy.

Do you think the Enron traders who rigged California’s energy market ?were aware of the risks and the balance they made before they made that decision, and it’s up to them to re-evaluate their future strategy? ? When the lights go out over a large area, it’s statistically certain that people will die. But Arthur Andersen is now Accenture.

How about the investment bankers who rigged the mortgage market with CDOs? Are those guys re-evaluating?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Ah, humans

Erm, I’ve thought about several ways to reply to this, but I’ll respond with another question – do you honestly feel that those things are in any way analogous to Twitter losing its linking ability for 40 minutes? That the reasons behind any of those decisions are the same as Twitter deciding to bring a service type often utilised by its customers in-house and encouraging its usage?

If so, I’d suggest you seek help, or at least a sense of perspective. If not, I’m not sure what you’re even trying to do here.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

That is not the function of shortened links on twitter.
Using “a href” would make the links bigger. (code for link + code for visuals )

Shortened links on twitter, are a redirect service.
The actual url is shorter. (completely different url)
The shortened url’s hosts, give you rollover info on the location of the link.

I agree that html formatting would be nice, so would more characters, but it’s twitter, a micro blogging network.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I agree 100%. Shorteners are fine with twitter, but I don’t use twitter so that’s a non-issue for me.

I hate it, however, when shortened URLs appear on regular web pages and in comments. They’re opaque, so I can’t see where the link is taking me, they allow my clicking of the link to be tracked, and they do indeed make things more fragile by introducing another point of potential failure.

My trivial protest is that I never click on them.

ComputerAddict (profile) says:

Twitter’s 140 character limit is not an artificial one (at least from Twitter’s POV, from the telecom industry maybe). SMS messages can only be 160 characters long and it is reasonable for twitter to use 20 of those characters for tagging/packing the message. Hence the limit. Twitter was started before smartphones really made it big. Twitter rose up through feature phones, and needs to stick to that format so that users from 3rd world developing nations can continue to use it. Now obviously smartphones can use new protocols like MMS, or can split and stitch long messages, but not everyone is there yet, and Twitter keeps proving itself to be necessary in those countries.

Laroquod (profile) says:

(1) All web links are vulnerable to future breakage. However, we obviously cannot dispense with web links, because they are the only way to exchange references on the web.

(2) All shortened links are vulnerable to future breakage. However, we obviously cannot dispense with shortened links, because they are the only way to exchange references on the shortened web.

In order to convince me there is something wrong with using shortened links, you have to convince that statement (2) is false, despite the fact that statement (1) is obviously true.

Good luck with that.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re:

There’s an even greater risk than John Fenderson points out. t.co goes down and everything pointing to a t.co url goes down. If twitter had their way, that would mean every url on twitter is now broken. But if example.com goes down, only urls to example.com go down.

Using a url shortener where unnecessary is the quintessential example of putting all of your eggs in one basket. Sure, any given domain can go down, but using URL shorteners means that now one domain going down takes down all the links using that shortener.

Anonymous Coward says:

The same human error that could bring down any domain name, including twitter’s. If your humans are idiots, get rid of them, and don’t give them access to do errors that can be that drastic.

Poor managerial skills form the supervisor? Maybe.

Bad decision in allowing the employee to access what he broke? Surely.

Making a huge deal out of nothing? Absolutely.

SD says:

Blame should be squarely on the registrar for handling the situation like they did. Taking down t.co didn’t even take down the phishing site, as it was only linking to one. How many times have we heard a story like this happen before at different levels of the internet food chain (site->datacenter->registrar->government)? This will continue happening forever but it can become less annoying if there was an automated scheme in place to send browsers to an alternate location or two.

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