Bugs & Fixes: Short URLs render Safari’s history useless

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When I can’t quite recall a critical detail from a webpage I visited a few days ago, I typically search Safari’s History to locate it. Increasingly often, I am wasting my time.

Why? Because many of the URLs I load in Safari come from my Twitter feed. These URLs, in turn, are wrapped by t.co, Twitter’s official URL shortener. The primary function of shorteners is to allow tweets to contain URLs without the links eating up too much of Twitter’s 140 character limit. That’s fine. However, an unintended consequence is that, when these URLs show up in Safari’s History, they all have a title of “(no title)” and an indecipherable “http//t.co/” address.

You can probably see where this is headed. Without a title or full URL, there is no way you can locate or identify any of the webpages represented by these shortened URLs. The shortened URLs have a similar negative effect on auto-completion in Safari’s Address Bar. Given how many of the webpages I view originate from Twitter, the end result is that Safari’s History function has become next to worthless for me.

Surely, I thought, there must be a work-around. I searched the web in hope of finding a tip that would rescue me. I found nothing…until this week: Detox, a recently released Safari extension, claimed to “automatically expand shortened t.co links on the Twitter site.”

Does it do the job? Yes. But only up to a point. It’s still only a partial solution at best.

Figure 1. How URLs entered directly in Safari’s Address bar appear in Safari’s History

Figure 2. How links double-clicked in Twitter appear in Safari’s History

Detox does not change the Address listing in History; it remains the shortened t.co link. What Detox does do is change the title from “(no title)” to the URL before its t.co conversion. So, if the original URL in a tweet was a full address (such as “http://www.macworld.com/weblogs/mac911.html”), the full address will appear as the title in Safari’s History. Unfortunately, even this shift is not a complete success. If the original tweet used a separate URL shortener (as is often the case), the title will be the shortened address. For example, most links posted by @macworld look something like this: macw.us/zzetPm. With Detox installed, these shortened links become the titles in Safari’s History. While this is marginally more informative than no title at all, it is still not very useful. Even in the best case scenario, the page’s actual title does not appear in History, just its URL.

Figure 3. How links double-clicked in Twitter appear in Safari’s History after enabling Detox

I place most of the blame for this problem on Safari. Different web browsers handle this task differently—and usually better. With Firefox and Chrome, for example, both the actual webpage title and the t.co link show up in History.

Hopefully, Apple will one day resolve this issue via an update to Safari. Until then, what can a Safari user do? You can switch browsers of course. Otherwise, in most cases, you can copy and paste links from Twitter to Safari; although an inconvenience, this avoids the t.co conversion and results in the true title showing up in History.

Beyond that, you could encourage Twitter users to abandon URL shorteners and instead enter full URLs, enabling Detox to work better. I’m not holding my breath waiting for this to happen. Finally, we can hope that an updated version of Detox (or perhaps some future utility) will nail the solution.

For now, Safari’s History is history for me.

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