VB.ly, Bit.ly and Mitt.ly in danger? Oh real.ly? Trouble in .ly domain land.
Update, Friday, 12:30 p.m.
Nic.ly has published a response explaining its decision to block VB.ly. It states, "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."
It says the group was contacted to discuss the issue, but the calls were not returned. The statement ends, "Never once have we abused the trust invested in us by the Global internet community, nor have we ever taken advantage of having an attractive extension like '.ly'. Only when our Community's rules and regulations were compromised was when we had to act."
Update, 4:45 p.m.
Mitt Romney's spokesman has confirmed that they will be changing the Mitt.ly domain shortener. Their e-mailed statement reads, "We're learning about this for the first time and taking steps to change the domain for our site."
Update, 3:45 p.m.
This story just keeps getting odder. First a sex columnist calls out the Libyan government for censoring her shoulders when they shut down her Vb.ly Web site. Now Politico reports Mitt Romney has heard the news and does not want to be associated with the Libyan government. He's said to be switching his Mitt.ly personalized web site to Mi.tt, though as of now the shortener still works.
Bit.ly, Owl.ly, Vb.ly: adorably named URL shortening services have skyrocketed in popularity thanks to microblogging sites such as Twitter, where every character counts. But the owner of one URL shortener thinks the .ly party is coming to an end.
"I will never buy another .ly domain," Ben Metcalfe said in a phone interview. ".ly domains should be considered unsafe."
Two weeks ago, Metcalfe says his year-old shortener site, Vb.ly, was shut down without notice by the domain host because it ran afoul of Libyan Islamic law.
For the non-techno folk, domain names work much like a telephone number: they direct you to a company's content. .ly domains are registered in Libya and became popular to foreign companies that wanted short URLs, but could no longer purchase them in the US. Registered sites in Australia get .au; in Britain, they get .uk; in Libya, .ly.
Short domain names have been snatched up over the years, but short Libya domains were available seemed open to foreigners purchasing domains through the NIC.ly Web site, the domain registry for Libya. Companies such as Bit.ly and Ow.ly have made the .ly service a popular choice (full disclosure: I own bell.ly). People can purchase the domains for $75 a year.
All domain registrars must go through ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. The California nonprofit coordinates the Internet addressing system of web names so that domains will be recognized the same everywhere in the world. To get a registration like .ly to work, Libya would have to register its domain with ICANN. They must follow certain policies under ICANN, though though the regulations of the Web sites fall largely under the auspices of the particular country.
Metcalfe and business partner Violet Blue bought the VB.ly domain a year ago and renewed their registration in August. A month later, after the money had been paid, the site was pulled without notice. When they followed up with NIC.ly, they were notified that "pornography and adult material aren't allowed under Libyan Law, therefore we removed the domain."
Violet Blue is a sex educator and popular online personality. In the correspondence with Blue, NIC.ly said they took issue not with her site's content, but with the photograph on the VB.ly homepage showing Blue and the words "sex-positive." It was deemed obscene under Libyan Islamic law.
Metcalfe sees an ulterior motive that has less to do with sexual content and more to do with money: "It's very hard to get hold of short domains. ... Given the high value of many of these domains" he said he thinks there might be pressure within Libya to make profitable domain names available only to Libyans. "There may be pressure to perhaps pull some of these domains back in."
He notes that the site has recently stopped selling one-, two- and three-character URLs to any business outside of Libya.
While NIC.ly does not seem to be going after any other shorteners, Metcalfe warns that users of the .ly URLs should still be concerned.
"The concept amounts to censorship and makes .ly domains untenable to be used for user-generated content or url shorteners," he wrote in a blog post last night.
Libyan Spider, one of the registered sellers of .ly domains, does state on its site that content must not contain "obscene and indecent names/phrases, including words of a sexual nature" and "sex" does seem to be a word of a sexual nature. NIC.ly has not responded to a request for comment at this time.
| October 6, 2010; 2:14 PM ET
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