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URL Shorteners: Blind(ly) Heading Towards Disaster?

If you thought email radically changed the way nonprofits communicated with constituents online, then social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter may have challenged you even more. Social networking has forced nonprofits to be comfortable with two-way communications, transparency, and adapting to short social conversations using limited character counts. As part of this communications evolution, nonprofits have grown accustomed to relying on url shorteners such as bit.ly and ow.ly to quickly share links to blog posts, advocacy and fundraising campaign on social networks. Plus some of the tracking stats (number of clicks, referrer, locations) have been useful to nonprofits in helping to determine which links resonated with their constituents. However, just today a .ly shortener called vb.ly has been seized by the Libyan government for failure to comply with Islamic law. And now this has all .ly url shorteners on high alert. You may be wondering how this is possible and what kind of impact will this have on nonprofits?

Some Background

A country code top-level domain (ccTLD) is a two letter Internet top-level domain used or reserved for a country, a sovereign state, or a dependent territory. The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority determines a trustee for each ccTLD and administration and control is then delegated to that trustee. This trustee enforces policies and operation of the domain. Since .ly is used and operated by Libya, they are within in their jurisdiction to seize domains that don't comply with their laws. In the case of vb.ly the Libyan trustee felt that "that the content of [their] website was offensive, obscene and illegal according to Libyan Islamic Sharia Law."

Could this impact popular url shorteners bit.ly and ow.ly? Absoultely.

Impact on Nonprofits

Bottom line. Panic! Just kidding. If your nonprofit shares links anywhere (email, social networks, on your own website, etc) using .ly shorteners and that .ly shortener is seized, these links will no longer work. Yikes! Here are some options you may want to consider. Look for alternative url shorteners such as Google's new version goo.gl which has some basic tracking stats.

If Goo.gl integrates with Google Analytics in the future it will become quite powerful. Also, if your nonprofit website is on the content management system Drupal or WordPress you can use one of their modules to build your own shortener. Granted this url won't be easily integrated into your existing tools such as Tweetdeck or Hootsuite but you can certainly ask for a feature request from your favorite apps.

What are your favorite url shorteners that aren't affiliated with .ly?


Reader Comments (9)

j.mp. It's associated with bit.ly so the account and stats are shared. It's also two characters shorter.
October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlex Bea
Great post, Allyson! I rarely think about what countries are behind different top-level domains. Yet another way that our online work can be dependent on the good will of companies or entities that are distant from our daily work. I try to avoid URL shorteners in general, because they bug me from a usability perspective (http://www.beaconfire.com/blog/2009/05/26/url-shorteners-how-to-stay-out-of-trouble/), but it could be a serious issue for lots of organizations if sites like bit.ly, and all their data, went away.
October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJo Miles
Useful points- I've transitioned to j.mp myself today. The beaconfire article is useful as well, but the URL incorporates the trailing right parenthesis, and so yields a 404.

It should be: http://www.beaconfire.com/blog/2009/05/26/url-shorteners-how-to-stay-out-of-trouble/
October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChristoph Berendes
Thanks for alerting nonprofit folks to this news, Allyson. There is always the tinyurl. Also many sites like LinkedIn and YouTube offer their own link-shortening specific for content on these sites.
October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMegan Keane
Excellent post, raising the visibility of this issue is important to all including non-profits. Running your own shortener is reasonably straightforward using PHP but stats etc are not so easy to process.

The same problems could occur with any of these domains .gl (Greenland) .mp or even .tv (tavula) as all of these are under the control of the relevant politicians and their status and motivation can change over night, look at China and Google or Blackberry.

Everyone needs a plan B and the ability to export and transfer stored data is important, I understand Backupify and and the OpenSource community are both working to make this easier.

October 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMikeTheBee
Allyson, thanks for pointing this out. I did indeed panic for a moment since we do have hundreds of shortened URLs in bit.ly. However, when I went to sign up, I realized that j.mp is an alternate domain name for bit.ly. Crisis averted. Whew! :)
October 7, 2010 | Unregistered Commenternadodi
I think there is a bigger issue here, besides finding an alternative to .ly domains. While I think it's less likely that Greenland (.gl) or The Northern Mariana Islands (.mp) will try to enforce Sharia law, the fact is, using any of these shortening techniques would make you subject to that country's law. So the problem only becomes less severe, but it doesn't go away.
October 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarissa
The "Share on Twitter" bookmarklet I sometimes use is a t.co, which should be fairly safe against Libya or a similar government. Thanks to Mike for sparing me a search--Goo.gl uses a Greenland top-level domain, and I doubt anything is likely to go amiss with that. Tuvalu is probably safe, too, although if the most pessimistic forecasts of global warming turn out to be true, my money's on Greenland.

I blog on WordPress, which can automatically generate a shortened wp.me URL for my posts. Montenegro?? Well, it's better than Libya, but I'm definitely looking into Goo.gl.
October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren E. Lund
I've found su.pr pretty effective and sometimes creates a jump in Traffic from StumbleUpon readers.
October 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Roberts

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