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In the wild world of URL shorteners, Libya is king

December 15, 2009 |  2:45 pm

ShortenersGoogle is betting on Greenland, Facebook on Montenegro and Bit.ly on Libya.

The rise of URL shorteners -- those brief links that are thriving on space-constrained networks such as Twitter -- has in turn created a sort of gold rush to snatch up the tiniest and cleverest domains.

Because dot-com registrations are over-saturated, the boon is happening in domains based in other countries.

Google launched Goo.gl, a shortener that works alongside its toolbar and on Feedburner, and Facebook rolled out Fb.me, both on Monday. The Internet giants join the fray to rival Bit.ly, which stole the link-crunching crown from TinyURL.com.

Putting all of our link data into these services carries a degree of risk. Adding another layer to the Web is one concern, but can we trust any small country or island to keep these domains intact?

Unlike top-level domains (.com, .net and .org), country-code domains aren't regulated by the International Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers. For top-level domains, "we accredit organizations that sell those domains," said Kim Davies, a manager at the Marina del Rey-based ICANN. "We're contractually connected to them."

Country-code domains are a different story.

"With those, we don't do any compliance activity," Davies said on the phone recently. "We have relatively little influence.... We essentially hand them over to each country to run as they wish."

"It's for each country to set up what the rules are. Obviously, from country to country, they have set up different rules for what they think is appropriate."

For example, in Australia, domain registrations are limited to residents of the country. In North Korea, Davies observes that those may be limited to government officials.

The rules can change at any time.

"It's not a problem to us if a country wants to restrict its domains to individuals [living there]," Davies said. "The original intention was you only register with the country you're in."

Bit.ly General Manager Andrew Cohen said he's not concerned about Libya leaving him out to dry. Bit.ly -- a company based in New York City, not in Libya -- also owns the domains Bitly.com and J.mp; the latter domain is assigned to the Northern Mariana Islands.

Theoretically, if Libya shuts Bit.ly out of its domain, users could simply copy those broken links in tweets and replace the "bit.ly" portion of the link with "j.mp" to get to the source. Google and Facebook show little indication of an immediate backup plan.

Several others are beginning to launch their own independent shortening portals, some of them powered by the new Bit.ly Pro. News sources are looking to brand their links, such as the New York Times with NYTim.es (based in Spain) and TechCrunch with TCrn.ch (based in Switzerland).

Brizzly founder Jason Shellen registered Brizz.ly with a Libyan registrar recently. Or so he thought. The Web address meant to accompany his social networking Web application, which we wrote about last month, disappeared after three months, Shellen said.

"They notified us, Yeah, that didn't go through. What?" Shellen said. "Another registrar just sold it."

Luckily, it was sold to his friend at Hootsuite, who gifted it back to him. You don't often see these blunders with dot-com registrations.

Routing Web addresses through third-parties based around the world could cause headaches. But on the bright side, at least we have tweetable links.

-- Mark Milian
twitter.com/markmilian

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