Remember URL shorteners? They were important in the late 90s and early 2000s when non-voice mobile communication meant text messages to a Nokia brick, and newspapers were struggling to find a way to put lengthy web addresses onto the printed page without taking up too many column inches?
When we only had 160 characters to play with, every single one of them counted. If you were sending your friend a link to a cat Gif on Myspace, the friend would then need to laboriously type out that link on the yellowed mechanical keyboard of the ageing 286 in the corner of the lounge.
It was a pain in arse, and when URL shorteners arrived on the scene in 2002, they were a godsend. A complicated, hierarchical, 300 character address could be compressed down to a dozen characters - or fewer.
Think of the repetitive strain injury. Think of the arthritis.
Those days are gone now, and The Crow rarely has the need for URL shorteners. There’s one built into Twitter of course, but I don’t use Twitter. Amazon has its own shortener, which, as far as I can tell is used to disguise affiliate links.
Various scandals related to tracking and privacy, and spam also put people off the idea of Short URLs. In very rare cases, I will need a short, easy to remember URL if I’m reading out an address over that most old fashioned of telecom devices -the phone.
Over the past few days, I’ve been noticing a few two letter domains appearing on the Fediverse, along with some smattering of conversation about URL shorteners. I wanted one, I needed one, and I had to have one.
To be fair, posts from The Crow’s very own Fediverse instance have a 150,000 character limit, so need probably isn’t the right term. Regardless, I persuaded myself that there was a use case for one.
Believe it or not, there are loads of two character URLs out there which haven’t yet been snapped up by domain squatters. My first choice was http://2p.is (because it can be pronounced as ‘To piss’ and I have the toilet humour of a 12 year old), but between me spotting it on Monday night and waking up on Tuesday morning, it had been registered by someone else. The odds against this happening are absolutely astronomical, but whatever.
What's this about Google Translate?
Inspired by the 2p.is pun, i went in search of other domain hacks, and landed on .by - which is the latinised Belarusian TLD.
Bear in mind that I’m not a Russian speaker. I can read the Cyrillic alphabet so long as the typeface isn’t too squiffy, but I figured that using Google translate in the Chromium browser would be a wise move.
The domain I was after wasn’t available, but the registrar offered me the same name with a .bel ending.
A.bel ending (snigger)? Why hadn’t I heard of this before?
Naturally, I started experimenting with domain hacks, came up with la.bel (Awesome name for a URL shortener) and with the help of a couple of people on the r/Belarus subreddit, managed, at 2am, to complete the form, pay the 33 rubles, and realise, some time later, that I had not purchased la.bel. Instead, I had paid out for ла.бел. Thanks Google.
And yes, I can transliterate my newly acquired, two-years-paid-up-front URL, and read it as label, but it’s a hell of a thing to type in when using an on-screen Russian keyboard on my teeny tiny laptop. And it completely misses the point of creating a short, easily memorable address to transmit verbally - at least to a more Western audience.
[edit: As of February 8th 2021, ла.бел is in use as a Belarusian language resource run by a person from reddit (and presumably Belarus). It will be transferred into their sole custody at the end of the current lease period]
So this is my new effort. nib.by. Nibby. Likened to the nib of a pen. Nibby. It kind of rolls of the tongue, and despite containing more letters than I originally sought, I’m pretty happy.
DIY or ready made?
The Crow is a ‘roll your own’ kind of bird, and my natural instinct was to string something together with elastic bands, a collection of scripts, and some symbolic links - all operated by altering a text file in my Nextcloud. That’s exactly the sort of hacky solution I usually prefer.
I was actually quite excited at the prospect of rigging this system, up but it occurred to me in the time I had that spent planning the awesome Heath Robinson affair, I could have simply spun up a ready-made solution
It’s now running the excellent and no-fuss Polr URL shortening software, which took all of 15 minutes to install and configure on my Raspberry Pi, and is now proudly part of The Crow’s self-hosted stable.
Long term, I have no idea how I’m going to use this, or how much, or even if I’m going to open it up to other users.
The domain name might end up as something else entirely. I don’t know.
In the meantime, watch out for more posts with a short nib.by URL.
The URL for this post is nib.by/1, bringing 74 characters down to eight. How neat is that?
This site is hosted on a Raspberry Pi 4B in the author's living room (behind the couch). If you fancy building a website, but would prefer not to have hardware cluttering up your house, you can get reasonably priced hosting from BlueHost
On the other hand, if you're worried about being followed online, consider using PureVPN to cover your tracks
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