vb.ly screenshot, courtesy of our own violet.blue.
Somehow, my desire to provide you with a simple link to my Google Voice how-to articles turned into a story of geopolitics, coalition warfare, Sharia Law, and adult-friendly material. Gosh, I love this gig!
Here's the back story.
ZDNet has a mechanism for providing shortened URLs. If you subscribe to the @ZDNet Twitter feed, you'll notice a lot of links of the form http://zd.net/kvUkBz (this one happens to point to Denise Amrich's fun tea tech article).
I'd previously noticed that zd.net allowed vanity paths, and I wanted to create zd.net/googlevoicehowto that would point to my Google Voice articles.
Simple, right? So I asked my editors how to do it. Apparently, ZDNet has an enterprise license with Bit.ly, and we get our shortened URLs through Bit.ly's URL shortening engine.
Sigh. This is when I found I couldn't leave well enough alone.
Greaaaaaat. Not to be too snarky, but doesn't it seem a bit weird to run ZDNet Government URLs through a top-level domain of a country we've been, you know, bombing? Just sayin'.
For that's actually what's going on. The .ly in the bit.ly domain stands for Libya, and it's Libya's top-level country domain. The swell guys over at Bit.ly have built an entire business around a TLD from a country run by a complete whack-job who the entire Western world has a hate-on for.
Now, y'all know I'm neither a hawk nor a dove. Sure, I love me my military hardware. I'm not thrilled with spending tax dollars on it, but I go all gooey inside over anything that can break the sound barrier or bust underground bunkers. But that's more because I'm a gadget geek than because I want to see our troops sent into harm's way.
I also strongly disagree with America's participation in Operation Unified Protector (NATO's interdiction program in Libya) and Operation Odyssey Dawn (the tax-dollar suck that is America's part of the program).
I object to using America as international protector when we're currently fighting on two or more fronts, indebted up to our ears to a possible enemy state, and have far too many of our own citizens living without homes.
I object to helping other nations before we get our own house in order.
It just seems like we're behaving like that cousin we all have who enjoys telling us how to run our lives, but then hits us up for a loan because she's unwilling to find real work. It seems irresponsible, like it's easier to bomb some Libyans than protect our own citizens from the predatory practices of our health care, insurance, and banking industries.
But I digress. The subject of this article has to do with using a Libyan domain as the foundation for many of our URL redirects -- and my opinion of the general foolishness (and mock-worthy fun) of that practice.
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.
To be fair, America isn't at "coalition" with Libya just because of a domain name.
Oh, no. We're there to save the people from slaughter, to help the citizens see the wisdom of regime change, to wait, spending billions of dollars, for those self-same citizens to see the errors of their leaders' ways (and perhaps notice that inviting stockpile of guns over there, behind the Muam-Mart) and overthrow Gaddafi once and for all.
America doesn't "do" regime change. We just help it along, painfully slowly, bleeding American taxpayers, until we get a new regime, just like the old regime -- but with players willing to go along with our policies -- at least until the heat dies down on the new leaders and we in America forget about the billions we spent to get our way.
Also, to be fair, Bit.ly says the shortened URLs aren't really at much risk (or so they claim).
According to a Quora post by then Bit.ly CEO John Borthwick, only two of Bit.ly's root domain servers are in Libya. One other is in the Netherlands, and two are in Oregon. He claims Bit.ly URLs are safe. Of course, he's no longer Bit.ly's CEO, so come to your own conclusion.
Unfortunately, if the experiences of our own Violet Blue are any indication, Bit.ly's cherished .ly could certainly still be at risk. Back in 2009, Violet launched vb.ly, what she called "the Internet's first and only sex-positive URL shortener."
After about a year running this service, the Libyan government (one wonders if Muammar himself was doing some selective surfing) apparently came across Violet's vb.ly service.
The Libyans decided she was showing too little sleavage, saying the service had "offensive content and imagery." Apparently, the picture of her with her bare arms was "illegal," her beer bottle was also "illegal," and the words "sex positive" were also a Libyan no-no according to their laws.
Forbes also ran a piece about Violet's service, the key point in the Forbes piece being that -- apparently -- the Libyan government wasn't thrilled with anything that doesn't abide by Sharia Law. Sharia Law isn't exactly open-minded about women's issues, sex, or, well, pretty much any particularly modern thought or Western custom.
All of that, of course, brings us back to zd.net and bit.ly.
My original goal was to give you a nice, short URL if you're looking for help setting up Google Voice. That's been accomplished. You can just go to zd.net/googlevoicehowto. I've carefully gone back and re-read all my articles in the series, and I can't find more than five or ten places where my words might not have been compatible with Sharia Law.
So go get your Google Voice on now, while bit.ly still works. After all, even if we don't bomb Libya back into the Stone Age, there's no guarantee that -- when you base your URL shortening service in a country as completely fraked up as Libya -- the service won't be taken down on a whim.
Oh, and I have a couple of important suggestions to Bit.ly's current CEO, Peter Stern. First, wear long sleeves. Second, don't let your picture get taken and posted online if you go out drinking. Apparently, the Libyans don't have much of a sense of humor.
P.S. While Libya lost the revenue from Violet's vb.ly domain, we here at ZDNet got Violet on our team. So, Libya, heh, we won! Nyaaaaah, nyaaaaah!