Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmx DOT com

Science in London: The 2016 scientific society talks in London blog post

Friday, 1 June 2012

The perils of sharing URLs - be aware

[Edit 14 June 2012: now with Guardian Facebook app info (below)]

I recently wrote a post about 'what is all this crap Google adds to my search URL' referring to the alphanumeric text that Google appends to the web address that results from doing a search. I can share this URL with other people and when they click on it they'll get more or less the same search results too. Since I'm not sure what information is shared by the alphanumeric gibberish I tend to clip all URLs (or at least check them in notepad) before sharing.

While on a local volunteering site I typed in my postcode to see what's available (I'm interested in being a Digital Champion and helping people get online) and came across an opening for a freelance journalist living in Tower Hamlets. Since I know lots of journalists and writers I thought I'd share this on Twitter but it would have been rather unwise to copy and paste the URL as it is, as you'll see below:
http://www.do-it.org.uk/search/opportunities/1682771/Journalist?unit=mile&distance=5&location=SE3+[redacted]&activitiesSome=47

While I've no problem with people knowing I live or work in Blackheath the last three digits of my postcode can narrow things down quite a bit - I can't help thinking this isn't something I want to share.

Many URLs now have extra information at the end of them that tell you how the person sharing them came by them in the first place, eg through a search (quite possibly what they searched for), via Twitter (look out for something like utm=twitter at the end of the URL), or through a newsletter when you click on a link that arrives in your email inbox and is used to track your visits to the website. Not that long ago I received an email from an organisation to say that they were no longer going to send me newsletters because they'd noticed that I never clicked on any of the links.

I think it's worth paying a little attention to these URLs just to see what you might be unwittingly sharing. You can hover over an URL and right-click, copy 'location' and then paste it into notepad (for PC users: Start > type 'notepad' into 'Search all programs and files') to inspect it before sharing :) 

I have to say I do this pretty much constantly for any link that's longer that I can see in the status bar at the bottom of the screen (when you hover over an URL the full details show up in the taskbar - you can toggle this on or off in the View menu). The only URLs that don't yield this info are t.co - anyone know of a way to see where it's going to take you (eg with bit.ly URLs just add a + at the end to see what the page is before visiting it).

To make the above URL 'safe' all I need to do is delete everything after Journalist and all will be well. Note also though that if I paste it here then Blogger will turn it into an active link and deleting part of the visible URL is insufficient as the information in the full URL is embedded / hidden within the text - caveat linkor.

My philosophy, unless the faff of tweaking outweighs the 'risk', is to share only the minimum amount of URL text that will take a reader straight to the relevant page.

Well... this is one reason why I think I might be good at teaching people how to get online and stay safe ;)

[Guardian Facebook app]
I have platform apps switched off on Facebook. While I don't truly believe that I can ever hide from Facebook I like to do what I can to thwart it. If a friend has OKed the Guardian Facebook app (or other newspaper apps, not to pick on The G in particular) every time they're logged in to Facebook and read something it's posted to their timeline unless they've disabled it. This means I'll see something and think "oh that looks interesting" and click on it - which is precisely what's meant to happen, Facebook being about sharing. However I don't get very far because of the app block I have in place.

Rather than let me just read the article it doesn't let me unless I sign up. To get to where I want I have to chop bits of the web address off so that I end up with a working URL to go to the article. Fiddly.

I must have recently tried to read a story about pro-choice and ended up with this URL. It seems that Facebook wants to share with The Guardian my email address, birthday and location - I don't particularly mind either having this info (wouldn't have shared it in the first place if it was secret) but I like to know when I click on something what I'm sharing. Even if it's information I'm happy to share it feels weird not to know when I've shared it.

https://www.facebook.com/dialog/oauth?client_id=[redacted numbers]&redirect_uri=http%3A%2F%2Fapps.facebook.com%2Ftheguardian%2Fworld%2F2012%2Fmar%2F21%2Fpro-choice-protest-anti-abortion&scope=publish_actions,email,user_birthday,user_location

To turn this into a working URL then you need to clip out everything that doesn't look like a regular Guardian web address and turn everything that says %2F into a forward s/l/a/s/h and %3A into a c:o:l:o:n

Clipping this bit out gives:
http%3A%2F%2Fapps.facebook.com%2Ftheguardian%2Fworld%2F2012%2Fmar%2F21%2Fpro-choice-protest-anti-abortion

Tidying up gives:
http://theguardian/world/2012/mar/21/pro-choice-protest-anti-abortion

This still isn't a proper recognisable web address so a bit of logic, guesswork, assumptions and tweakings (or you can just plug that URL into Google search and the right one will come out anyway) gives this, which works:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/mar/21/pro-choice-protest-anti-abortion

Writing down the steps makes it seem like much more of an effort than it actually is. I like the chase ;)

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