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Time To Think Carefully About Which Country Hosts Your URL Shortener

In my “how to choose a URL shortener” article last year, I warned that the country domain that a shortener used might be an issue to consider. A year later, that’s even more so, as a Libyan .ly domain used for an adult content shortener has been closed.

Libyan Registrar Takes Back Domain

Earlier this week, Nic.ly — a domain registrar in Libya that handles Libyans domains — took back the vb.ly domain from its American owners, after it was in use for a year.

Reason? The owners, Ben Metcalfe and noted sex blogger Violet Blue, were told the domain was violated Nic.ly’s terms as it was being used to point at adult content. From Blue’s blog post, citing what Nic.ly told her:

Pornography and adult material aren’t allowed under Libyan Law, therefore we removed the domain, and before doing so we warned you thru our Resellers and gave you a relatively long grace period to rectify your situation. Being that you didn’t receive/ ignored our warnings is your problem not ours

When we have an out cry from within our Community and even from places as remote as Morocco (a sister Muslim and Arab state) asking us how such a ‘scandalous’ domain is allowed to exist under our National extension we are left with no option but to apply the rules. I invite you to conduct a simple search to see if domains such as (what was) yours are allowed to exist under the ccTLD of other Arab and Muslim Countries.

They don’t. Why should Libya be the exception?

Metcalfe also blogged about the situation here.

Nic.ly: It Was A Porn Site, Not A Shortener Service

Nic.ly has also put up its own post on the situation today to suggest that where vb.ly went wrong was being “different” that other shorteners by focusing on adult content:

In reference to the vb.ly incident: the domain’s purpose (proclaimed by its registrants themselves) was to serve as a ‘sex friendly URL shortener’, mainly for adult uses. This means that vb.ly had a policy different than the other URL shorteners, not using filters and encouraging the use of this service for creating links to adult sites and other “NSFW” links, thus placing vb.ly by definition in the porn/adult site category.

This use was deemed as unacceptable by our local internet community, regardless of whether or not the site hosts adult material or redirects traffic to 3rd party sites

No Porn.ly, No Problem?

Effectively, Nic.ly calls vb.ly a porn site. That’s important, because it implies that the biggest shortener using the .ly domain, Bit.ly, won’t have similar problems. Since it (or other domains using .ly) aren’t trying to promote the shortening of adult content, it is seemingly in the “safe” category.

Moreover, looking at Bit.ly’s terms, the service does have rules against “pornographic” or “obscene” content. So technically, if Bit.ly found itself in the same situation as vb.ly, it could point to its terms to say it complies with the spirit of Libyan law and might look to do a better job in filtering (to my understanding, it currently doesn’t try to filter out adult content at all, only malware or similarly harmful links).

Time To Say Goodbye To .Ly Shortening, Hello J.mp

Still, it all leaves me unsettled. What’s to prevent a Libyan registrar down the road from deciding that just pointing at any adult content through your domain, even if that’s not your main purpose, is a violation worthy of pulling your domain?

The reality is that I can’t recommend anyone using the .ly extension any longer. In the case of Bit.ly, they also run the J.mp service. It works just like Bit.ly does, but the domain name is out of the Northern Mariana Islands. I’m going to trust them more than Libya, at this point.

Twitter Clients: Support J.mp & Goo.gl!

That also means I’d like to see Twitter clients ensure they are supporting J.mp as well as Bit.ly. In my Twhirl client from Seesmic, I’ve got no option to use J.mp. The same is true for TweetDeck. Adding in the new Google shortener also makes sense. Goo.gl makes use of the GL domain from Greenland.

Personally, when I had to pick a short, custom domain for Search Engine Land, I went with .com. Even though selnd.com meant I gave up a few characters, I had the security gained from my own name, using the long-standing .com out of the US.

I did ask Bit.ly about these issues, by the way, but the company wouldn’t comment on the record.

For more about URL shorteners, custom domains and more, see these previous articles from me:

Also see related stories here on Techmeme.


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