The 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. ~end
More from Domain Name Wire:
Is it wise to run a web service using a questionable country code domain?
You see, .ly is the country code for Libya, which has a not-so-great history with the United States. He also points out some of the rules attached to country code domains. I’ve written before about .AE for United Arab Emirates that restricts uses within Muslim law. There’s no poker.ae, for example. The same thing goes for .ly. This presents a problem since the Bit.ly service let’s you forward to just about any web site with any topic. Technically the content isn’t hosted on a .ly domain, but the danger is there that Libya would lay the hammer on this.
No serious business should use a country code domain name other than a major, unrestricted domain without special content rules.
Update: Twitter’s selection of bit.ly is demise of popular URL shortening service tr.im:
Statistics can no longer be considered reliable, or reliably available going forward. However, all tr.im links will continue to redirect, and will do so until at least December 31, 2009.
Your tweets with tr.im URLs in them will not be affected.
We regret that it came to this, but all of our efforts to avoid it failed. No business we approached wanted to purchase tr.im for even a minor amount.
There is no way for us to monetize URL shortening — users won’t pay for it — and we just can’t justify further development since Twitter has all but annointed bit.ly the market winner. There is simply no point for us to continue operating tr.im, and pay for its upkeep.
We apologize for the disruption and inconvenience this may cause you.
(there’s money in tr.im somewhere – how about an auction?)
Another update: Feedback from tr.im users convinced them to continue the service.
The update that was only a matter of time: Islamic sharia law shuts down .ly link-shortening site – who’s next?
When the Libyan government pulled the plug on the country’s Internet access on Friday, many outside the country were concerned about the implications the shutdown would have on the country’s top level domain (TLD). After all, the .ly domain is a popular alternative to the .com, used by a number of companies, but arguably most commonly associated with its usage as a URL shortener.
Read the varying thoughts on what will happen, and this conclusion:
All this should serve as a cautionary tale for anyone obtaining a domain – in Libya or, frankly, elsewhere, as TLDs fall under government scrutiny and seizure, no matter the country.
Bit.ly’s investors include Betaworks, RRE, AOL Ventures, O’Reilly Alpha Tech Ventures, Social Leverage, The Accelerator Group, SoftTech VC, Ron Conway, Josh Stylman, Pete Hershberg, David Shen Ventures, Jeff Clavier, Mitch Kapor, Howard Lindzon, Chris Sacca, and Founders Fund. Some of these investors are pretty clever folk.
ZDNet isn’t alone in using bit.ly. Apparently USA.gov (uh, the official Web portal of the US Government) is using Bit.ly (and it’s oh-so-Libyan domain name) to run some of its promotions.
Heck, if you can’t bomb a nation into letting you use their top-level domain, what good is having the ability to project power all over the world? Of course, the fact that usa.gov also uses bit.ly gives this whole thing a delicious irony.