perils

Living Dangerous.ly: Vanity URLs Newest Front in Global Revolution

bitly1 Living Dangerous.ly: Vanity URLs Newest Front in Global RevolutionPeople are dying in Tripoli,” Bit.ly investor John Borthwick snarled over the phone to The Observerthe other day. “Short URLs are a side issue.”

The popular URL-shortening service leases its catchy domain from the Libyan government, as do all Web properties with the .ly suffix, so the turmoil in Libya—and the government’s shutdown of Internet access—made it a pertinent question for users.

Mr. Borthwick insisted service would continue without interruption, since most of the relevant infrastructure is located outside Libya.

“Should Libya block Internet traffic, as Egypt did, it will not affect http://bit.ly or any .ly domain.  For .ly domains to be unresolvable the five .ly root servers that are authoritative *all* have to be offline, or responding with empty responses.   Of the five root nameservers for the .ly TLD: two are based in Oregon, one is in the Netherlands and two are in Libya,” Mr. Borthwick wrote on Quora.

But according to a representative from ICANN, the international corporation that administers Web addresses, a 28-day Internet outage in Libya would take down Bit.ly—in addition to Page.ly, Things.ly, Friend.ly, GeneralAssemb.ly and so on—until a connection was restored. Bit.ly links would cease to function.

Since such domains are purchased through brokers, many busy entrepreneurs give little thought to the nations behind them.

“We didn’t know it was Libyan until we tried to register it,” Sachin Kamdar, CEO of Parse.ly, told TheObserver. “We figured if Bit.ly thought it was O.K., then we would be fine.”

A monthlong Libyan Internet outage is considered unlikely. But the issue calls attention to the fragility of so-called vanity URLs. In October, the country shut down the “sex positive” URL-shortening service vb.ly without warning, calling it “offensive” and “scandalous.”

Alarmed by the vb.ly news, entrepreneur Julia West researched inlu.st, the domain she uses for her dating start-up. “It comes from São Tomé and Principe, an island nation off of the Western coast of Africa,” she said. “They speak Portuguese.”

Did she know there had been an attempted coup there in 2009, The Observer wondered? “I was not aware of the coup d’état,” she said. She has a .com version “in case of emergency.”

Blip.tv’s domain hails from Tuvalu, near Fiji in the South Pacific. “I heard it might go under,” co-founder Dina Kaplan said, referring to rising sea levels. “We should take a blip vacation there.”

Follow Adrianne Jeffries on Twitter or via RSS. ajeffries@observer.com