the sex-positive link shoterner: vb.ly

by Violet Blue on August 21, 2009

vb.ly screenshot
Screenshot of vb.ly, original photo by dotBen.

“Bravo!” –cNet

Last week I launched vb.ly — the world’s first and only sex-positive link shortening service. Scott at Laughing Squid added in his announcement post that it was built by dotBen and hosted on Laughing Squid’s new awesome cloud hosting service. We’re floating in the clouds, awww! I added that we included an API so people can do cool stuff with it and soon we’ll make it so anyone on WordPress can also automatically generate vb.ly URLs off their own blog. Right now, I’ve got a plugin running on TinyNibbles.com so that whenever I make a post, a shortened vb.ly URL is generated for each post. That feature lives inside the blogging interface for the moment, but we’ll be moving it to the blog so that each post offers readers the short link, and also a “tweet this” button to click and send it to their Twitter stream with the shortened URL. There’s so much that can be done with this…

We didn’t really mean for it to get so much attention, but it did. dotBen shot the photo of me at a gay pride party in June, and he did all the design; I walked in and saw the photo on his laptop and burst into a wicked grin. All the attention it’s getting is a good thing, but it’s also funny — like last night stumbling across Euro press to discover them making aggrandizing statements about “our intentions” for market domination. I happened to be filming when we found one last night and as you can see we were both like, wow I never said that, and laughed.

But we *did* say the things in this cNet article: ‘Sex-positive URL shortener’ Vbly launches. And then some nice things were said in cNet’s 404 podcast, however we don’t agree that seeing a “vb.ly” link means that it’s automatically NSFW — it’s a place where you CAN put NSFW links, but it’s not *exclusively* for non-worksafe links. It’s just a service which openly states that it won’t discriminate against you (by filtering or removing your links) if you do. Revolutionary, I know. We are talking about adding an optional button that would create an interstitial (gateway warning) page to let your clickers know they’re visiting a page they might want to view on personal time. It’s just a matter of us getting a second to get a break together from work to create it. It’s just us here, and production is live, as-we-go.

It’s exciting. In a comment I wrote that some people have asked me how a link generator can be sex-positive. It’s simple. Unlike other automatic services run by humans, I’m encouraging the use of NSFW URLs. So many of us have used services to later have our content removed or disappear because the service suddenly decides to “clean up” its image. I’ve often worried that a link shortener service will refuse to use one of my links, or get sold to a big company that pulls my links because they have the word “sex” in them. You can trust that we will never do that.

For the cNet interview, Rafe Needleman also asked me,

> What shorteners have removed NSFW links?

I replied: None to my knowledge, but taking a look at the landscape, link shorteners are a hot area. We’ve seen many launch in the past few months, and several companies are jumping into the shortening game as a service. So it follows that, as with every service that’s gotten big, it’s highly likely we’ll see at least one instance of one of these services groom themselves as “family friendly”. And there’s nothing wrong with that, unless they retroactively enforce work-safe rules on their users. Tired of being worried about having accounts, content or links pulled when companies change, I thought it was time for a service to be up front about the Internet’s inherent sexuality.

It’s not an “adult” service, but an approach that normalizes sex, and no one has to worry that they’re playing by some set of invisible rules — or that the rules might appear out of nowhere, or suddenly change when a company decides to change its TOS. Did you know that (according to the EFF) most major companies change their TOS almost *weekly*? They just don’t tell their users. the EFF tracks these changes closely; I’m hoping they’ll RSS these changes so someday we can subscribe to say, Facebook’s changing TOS…

{ 8 comments }

1 Darkstar August 27, 2009 at 8:31 pm

Yeah, what could possibly go wrong?

2 DJTennessee August 26, 2009 at 12:33 pm

@ c

I worry you’re being excessively pessimistic about how much heavily religious people need hardcore porn to get them through the day.

3 c August 25, 2009 at 7:05 am

“there are no rules as to what you can do with the domain once you legally have it”

That also means there are no rules as to what they can decide you can’t do. I worry that you are being excessively optimistic about what a heavily religious government will decide that they can and shouldn’t do.

4 DJTennessee August 24, 2009 at 12:42 pm

stumbling across Euro press to discover them making aggrandizing statements about “our intentions” for market domination

Leave it to the Germans to come up with a domination/submission angle!

Seriously, this is the cleverest invention ever from any of my local heroes.

5 bethany August 23, 2009 at 4:49 pm

This is awesome… and foreward-thinking, as well… Congrats on the launch!

6 casualencounters.com/blog August 23, 2009 at 2:46 pm

Intriguing. What’s your position it it being used to link to illegal content or being used in spam? Would you pull the links under such circumstances?

7 violet August 22, 2009 at 2:22 pm

Damon, I’m really glad you asked.

I guess first and foremost it’s worth highlighting the general public’s abstraction between websites running on ccTLDs (country code Top Level Domain) and the countries that the ccTLD belongs to. Ping.fm has no connection with the Federated States of Micronesia, Flickr’s new flic.kr domain is not based out of Korea, etc. the ccTLD system allows everyone to create new innovative (and short) urls that would otherwise not be available — I don’t think anyone would think that vb.ly is in any way associated with Libya.

the domain was purchased from a private company that is based out of Libya (which actually seems to support a lot of Open Source projects, yay!) and while there are some legal and Islamic-based morality rules that govern what can and can’t be registered in a .ly domain name, there are no rules as to what you can do with the domain once you legally have it. in other words the Libyan Government isn’t supporting, endorsing or presiding over what we’re doing on our domain and we’re not supporting, endorsing or presiding over what the Libyan Government is doing in their country.

we’re hosted on the wonderful Laughing Squid (US company) and we’re based out of San Francisco, CA, US.

in many ways you can look at this in reverse. isn’t it cool we can legally run such a service on top of the Libyia’s domain name — kinda subversive. and if vb.ly becomes successful then maybe it will be a great platform to start some important conversations about the issues you’re referring to. like this one.

8 Damon August 22, 2009 at 5:15 am

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