Bit.ly Builds Business on Libya Domain

Bit.ly logoThe URL shortening service Bit.ly just secured $2 million in financing from investors including O'Reilly's AlphaTech Ventures. Though URL shorteners have been around for years, Bit.ly believes there's money in offering Twitter-friendly short links along with web analytics to track how the links are used. The company reports that its links were clicked 20 million times last month.

So far, the news coverage I've read about Bit.ly has neglected an unusual aspect of the startup: It's one of the only prominent online ventures using a domain name in the .LY namespace, which is controlled by Libya.

There are two issues that arise from this relationship.

First, of course, is the appearance of an American company doing business with Libya, a country that the U.S. considered a state sponsor of terror from 1979 through 2006. On Dec. 21, 1988, Libyan intelligence agents planted a bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 that blew up 31,000 feet over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 people onboard.

Bit.ly's only doing a trivial amount of business with Libya -- the domains sell for $75 per year from the registrar Libyan Spider Network -- but its use of .LY domain is helping to popularize and legitimize the top-level domain for general use on the Internet. It's only a matter of time before a reporter decides to ask the families of Lockerbie victims what they think of the arrangement. I can't imagine that story going well for the company.

Even without that PR hit, there's another potential concern for Bit.ly and any other venture that builds its business on an .LY domain. These domains are governed by Libyan law, as it states on the Libyan Spider Network site:

Any .LY domain names may be registered, except domains containing obscene and indecent names/phrases, including words of a sexual nature; furthermore domain names may not contain words/phrases or abbreviations insulting religion or politics, or be related to gambling and lottery industry or be contrary to Libyan law or Islamic morality.

So the names must conform to Islamic morality, and it's possible that the use of the domains could fall under the same rules. What are the odds that some of those 20 million clicks on a Bit.ly-shortened URL end up at sites that would be considered blasphemous or otherwise offensive in an Islamic nation? Bit.ly conveniently provides search pages for such topics as Islam, sharia, gambling and sex, any of which contain links that could spark another controversy.

Bit.ly's building a business atop a domain that could be taken away at any time, and the company's only recourse would be to seek redress in the Libyan court system. Take a look at Section 11 of the regulations for .LY owners:

The Arabic language is the language of interpretation, correspondence and the construction of the Regulation or anything related to it. ... In case of conflict between the Arabic and the English versions the Arabic version shall prevail.

I hope Bit.ly's attorneys are brushing up on their Arabic.

Comments

Nice. I just refuse to use Bit.ly because it's run by people who don't give a rat's ass about the wishes of web authors -- it aggressively caches the content of all URLs that people use the service to shorten, even if the sites contain headers specifically asking NOT to be cached.

q.queso.com

When I questioned them about this, they gave lipservice to fixing it, but then never did; when I then filed a takedown request for content they're caching from my site, they threatened lawsuit.

Assholes.

Cool. I will start using bit.ly for all my dirty porn link shortening needs.

I'm surprised that Bit.ly thinks it can get away with disregarding cache instructions and not fixing the problem after saying that it would. Given its business, you'd think the company would realize how quickly bad PR can travel over blogs and Twitter.

3rd party URL shorteners: old and busted.


Self-hosted short URLs: new hotness.

I would suggest we leave the past in the history. British were killing Americans, Spanish - Mexicans, etc - etc. Neither .UK, nor .ES, neither .LY domains and other Internet projects have nothing to do to those days horrors.

I have seen many Italians using .ly domains, all good projects, e.g., bright.ly, fami.ly, sil.ly, serious.ly...

.ly domains are fun, the more - the merrier. As to porn: I would real.ly love to see it all locked under .xxx - so parents all over the world would not worry about perverts targeting kids trying to learn useful stuff on the web.

I have seen many great .LY sites, bit.ly is not the best, but it may prevail. There are so many URL shorteners...

What I real.ly love is song.ly.

Check out more great .LY names.

Apparently, there is a way to use bit.ly and avoid the .ly

twitter.com

I was curious this morning (well, this very early morning) to know more about the .ly TLD domain, and now I know. I think this whole decision (for choosing this TLD) can put millions (if not billions already) of links in jeopardy. I don't understand why twitter made the decision to favor bit.ly over all the other given the volatile nature of the domain. I think it's better to stick with .us / .ca domains for country TLDs, they are the safest and the maturest.

Libyan agents didn't blow up the Lockerbie flight. At least that's what investigators originally claimed, and had a very strong case for this.

It was in fact Iranian agents retaliating to the shooting down of an Iranian civilian airliner by a U.S. ship, which had also trespassed into Iranian waters. But this is rarely mentioned...

Some more info here for example:
covertaction.org

We've added an article based on this post and the others that have reported this earlier. My post about how webmasters feel about "rogue country" domains, is at blog.WebByFred.com<>

Your conclusion that links may contain immoral phrases/words/etc. due to Islamic law, is flat out wrong, as it's the domain itself that must conform, not any links on the domain. Your other concerns are valid, however, a spurious claim like this diminishes the value of them.

Your words turned out prescient but not for the domain you specifically pointed out. In August of '09 I sent an email to Violet Blue with a link to your article because she was promoting "the internet's first and only sex-positive URL shortener". She sent a nice reply and I thought nothing much of it until recently when I went looking for vb.ly and couldn't find it. I did find this:

news.cnet.com

Forget bit.ly? Have you already tried brief.ly? You can combine many links in one go. Super easy, super convenient.

We have used Bit.ly's services when we first started out sharing messages on Twitter.

Like most county code domains, one may not know *where* in the world that is and probably fewer still take the time to investigate it. I know we didn't. It's much like those software agreements -- as if you really have any other choice but to use the program.

Fortunately, there are alternatives to Bit.ly and unless you're doing things that you shouldn't show grandma, then one should really be using these other methods for long-term link growth.

For example, use a 301 redirect in your .htaccess file so you can control the domain and link life duration.

What would happen if Bit.ly decided to delete all of your shortened URLs? They haven't promised to keep them for life you know.

If you're in the marketing arena, or even if you're merely sharing photos on Facebook, your URLs will no longer work.

Something to think about, as with most *free* services on the 'net.

What a blast from the past. Bit.ly obviously caught onto something considering its' popularity with Twitter now. Although it's strange, I never realized the .ly extension is from Libya. I don't think anyone really knows this even though its so commonplace now. The implication you've pointed out are pretty crazy.

Yeah, you can use other url shortners if you don't like the .ly that's at the end...

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It's only a matter of time before a reporter decides to ask the families of Lockerbie victims what they think of the arrangement.

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Yeah, you can use other URL shorteners if you don't like the .ly that's at the end.

Bit.ly is a well-known site but I did not know that it is under Libya this is something that I never knew. I should ask my friend from Delaware about this information. Awesome article by the way.

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I'm amazed Bit.ly thinks it can get away with violating cache instructions and failing to solve the problem after promising to do so. Given its industry, you'd think the company would be aware of how quickly poor PR can spread via blogs and Twitter.

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