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The Future of .ly Domain Names

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In 2010, sex columnist and blogger Violet Blue registered the domain vb.ly to use as a one-page link-shortening service. She didn't anticipate too many problems. She was already well-experienced in hosting adult content legally.

But NIC.ly, the domain registrar for the Libyan TLD .ly, revoked the domain with no warning. It said the URL violated Libyan Islamic Sharia Law by having a policy that was open to adult-oriented content.

Many suspect that the real reason for the revocation is because of Libya's new policy on the issue, which prohibits the sale of .ly domains with fewer than four characters to people and companies outside Libya.

Why .ly?

Dot com domains might be the prime real estate of the web, but .ly domains have been rising in popularity for years.

You've probably used URL shortening service Bit.ly, seen ow.ly URLs shared by Hootsuite users, and heard of Visual.ly's design team or Generalassemb.ly's online courses. For today's startups, short, brandable domain names - minus the clunky dot-com - are all the rage. And when the English language allows you to coin any number of new adverbs by adding an -ly on the end of a word, you can see why the .ly TLD took off.

The Issue With Short TLDs

All two-letter TLDs are owned by countries or territories around the world. Those countries can use their domains however they please, and let people outside their territory register domains with their TLD.

Other examples of popular country and territory TLDs include:

  • .tv belongs to Tuvalu, a Polynesian island nation located in the Pacific Ocean, but it's often used for websites related to television and streaming media like MLB.tv and Redbull.tv.
  • .me belongs to Montenegro, but is used by sites like About.me and Qkme.me.
  • .co belongs to Colombia, but is treated like an alternative to .com or handy abbreviation for "company." It's used by Twitter for their URL shortening service t.co, and by AngelList at angel.co.
  • .fm belongs to the Federated States of Micronesia, but has become popular for podcasts, radio broadcasting, internet radio stations, etc. It's used by popular sites Ask.fm and Last.fm.

Many of these countries don't have specific laws about the use of their domains, or have even worked out a deal to lease their TLD outside their country, as in the case of Tuvalu's .tv.

The .ly TLD is Libyan and is therefore bound by the laws of that country.

Most countries don't take advantage of this power; others, such as Libya, use it to great effect. There is no law that says the way a nation doles out its domains must be fair.

Are Other .ly Domains at Risk?

All .ly domains are registered and administered by Libyan Spider Network, and their Terms of Use state that "Any .LY domain name 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, the same applies to the site content."

Letter.ly, an email subscription startup, also lost its domain registration in 2011 due to ongoing war in Libya.

Many of the most popular .ly domains, such as Bit.ly, are URL shortening services. Bit.ly shortens millions of URLs every month, and it's likely that some of the content of those links could be against Libyan Spider Network's policies. However, Bit.ly has been around since 2008 without any issues.

Should You Buy a .ly Domain?

Domain revocations are rare, and it's more likely your host would have an issue with your content than your registrar.

Still, with the current upheaval in Libya, the future of .ly domains may not be as secure as other options. If your brand includes a .ly domain, losing your domain due to Sharia law or political upheaval could result in a costly rebranding process.

Today, the popularity of .ly domains seems to be winding down. While hundreds of new .ly domains were registered in 2013, less than 50 were registered in 2014. With the country's ongoing instability, new startups just don't want to take the risk of starting off with an unstable domain.

If you want to buy a domain that be part of your brand for years to come, you may want to reconsider choosing a .ly domain.

Claire Broadley

About Claire Broadley

Claire has been creating websites for over 20 years and has been using WordPress for over ten. She is an expert in web hosting, design, HTML, and more. She lives with her husband and son in the United Kingdom.


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