Guess what the popular url shortener service, Bit.ly, and Libya have in common? I'll give you a hint, it ends in .ly. Yup, .ly is Libya's domain ending for registered web sites. So what happens to all those bit.ly urls on Twitter when Gadhafi turns off the Internet?
The short answer: at this point, not much. However if the outages are sustained for any length of time, there is a risk that urls generated by bit.ly could be disrupted. More on that in a moment, but first a...
Let me say this, up front. I am much more worried about the welfare of the Libyan citizens protesting their corrupt, oppressive government (Gadhafi). It is no coincidence that Libya's access to the Internet went dark hours before the bloody crackdown on protestors leaving hundreds dead at the hands of their own government.
Memo to Third World potentates: if what you are doing is so bad that you can't let the world watch, that's a big clue you shouldn't be doing it!
Network security specialists, Arbor Networks, has been monitoring Internet traffic in the Middle East during these recent weeks of unrest and is literally keeping score.
Here's more on their analysis:
Overall, our data shows pronounced changes in Internet traffic levels in two Middle East countries last week: Bahrain and Libya. While network failures and other exogenous events may play a role in decreased traffic volumes, we observe the changes in Bahrain and Libya are temporally coincident with the onset of recent protests. Several Bahrain telecommunication companies blamed the slowdown on 'overloaded circuits' and extremely high usage. - Craig Labovitz, Arbor Networks
Now, Back to Bit.ly
So what is the possible impact on Bit.ly's shortened urls? I'm walking a fine line trying to explain without getting too wonky. In short (no pun intended), there are five servers dedicated to .ly domains. Two are located within Libya. You would think the three .ly servers outside Libya would just take up the slack in the absence of the other two, keeping all .ly web addresses intact and safe.
In the short term, you would be thinking correctly. In fact, that's essentially what Bit.ly's CEO, John Borthwick, says in a Quora post.
However some Internet engineers weighing in on the matter agree that in the event of a sustained outage (several days perhaps), the two servers in Libya would not be sending updates to the other three. At some point, the three servers outside Libya could then consider the data in their registries "stale" and then no longer update .ly web addresses.
Bottomline: we can't be sure what will happen in the days ahead. We are truly wading in unknown waters in both the real and virtual world.