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Custom URL shorteners put the poetry back in domain names

by Alex in | | | | | |

The Internet in 1984.

January: Apple introduces the first Macintosh computer.

July: William Gibson publishes Neuromancer, which puts his term "cyberspace" into wider use.

October: Creation of first generic top-level domains.

Looking to create your own custom URL shortener, or running into trouble with YOURLs? Follow my sys admin’s step-by-step directions for running YOURLS on an nginx server in this blog post on how to get (and give) great tech support.

A man and a woman sit side-by-side in front of a computer. They are talking quickly, wildly, with the intensity of things not being said. They are sharing ideas and dreams and they are talking about an idea they have, something they could build together, something that would give them an excuse to talk and talk and talk the way they are talking at this very moment. This idea needs a name, and the name is what has brought them to this computer. As they huddle closer, peering into the magic window to see if the name could be theirs, the space between them disappears and they kiss for the first time.

This is the story of the first time my husband and I first kissed, and yes, it really was while searching for a domain name. We had been brainstorming ideas for how to create more online political debate in Canada, and came up with the idea of creating a virtual Question Period. The domain name — still available back then — was QuestionPeriod.com. But somehow we lost sight of the domain registration process in light of the kissing.

It’s hard to imagine anyone smooching over 64.95.64.197. So let’s all thank Paul Mockapetris for his 1984 role in introducing the domain name system (DNS), a distributed system for mapping unsexy IP addresses to oh-so-sexy domain names. DNS was designed to overcome the scaling problems that emerged as a larger and large number of Internet hosts had to keep their respective lists of host addresses in sync. And in the same year, an initial set of six top-level domains were established.

As if domain names weren’t pulse-quickening enough, the structure of DNS was almost ideally suited to the incubation of offline attachments. Anyone who has ever registered a domain name can tell you that the process offers less than instant gratification: even in 2011, it can (theoretically) take 24 hours for your domain to propagate — that is, for all the computers all over the world to recognize your new domain as yours. My ideas for how to pass the time while your domain propagate may be mostly online, but I’m sure that somewhere out there we could identify a demographic of “domain babies”: children conceived during the long hours after somebody clicked the “buy” button on mygreatnewwebname.com.

Social media took the poetry of domain names further still. The appearance of del.icio.us brought mainstream attention to the idea that hey, you could do fun stuff with the last part of your domain name, too. More recently, Libya has enjoyed a weird domain rush with the arrival of bit.ly, time.ly, ow.ly et al.

I can’t pretend it was empathy for the Libyan rebellion that led to my growing fatigue with bit.ly and its off-the-shelf URL-shortening brethren. I have a habit of customizing my shortened URLs: why point people to this series as http://bit.ly/hNgxWi when I could be pointing them to http://bit.ly/oneforty?

Answer: because http://bit.ly/oneforty points to OneForty a Twitter consultancy. Oh sure, I was able to get http://bit.ly/one40yrold, but that gets so long and confusing.

How much cooler is it to have http://alexlov.es/one40? That’s right: way, way cooler. Plus the same technology enables http://alexlov.es/evernote, http://alexlov.es/3hrblog and of course, http://alexlov.es/rob.

With my new, YOURLS-based URL shortener I feel like I’ve taken my domain love to a new level. Something akin to love has always been implicit in my relationship to the registration process: sometimes it’s love of the “can’t live with you, can’t live without you” variety, but sometimes it is actually good, nourishing, creative love. The love in which some spark of creativity gets the oxygen of commitment in the form of that first, registered URL.

My vanity URL shortener brings that love out into the open. Yes, it’s true: http://alexlov.es/dns.

First posted on April 8,2011

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