adds URL shortener for civilian use

Last year, the United States General Services Administration (GSA) launched the URL shortener at the Gov 2.0 Expo in Washington, D.C. Today, soft-launched a way for citizens to create shortened URLs as well. Whenever someone uses (or any service that uses, like Tweetdeck or the Twitter app for iPhone) to shorten a .gov or .mil URL, the link will be converted to a short

For those feeling a bit dizzied by acronyms, URL stands for “uniform resource locator.” A URL is the Web address, like, say,, that a citizen types into a Web browser to go to a site. Many URLs are long, which makes sharing them on Twitter or other mobile platforms awkward. As a result, many people share shortened versions. One of the challenges that face users is that, unless a citizen uses one of several tools to view what the actual hyperlink is below the link, he or she might be led astray or exposed to malicious code that was included in the original link.

This new service will make it easier for people to know when a short URL will direct them to a trustworthy official U.S. government site. “The whole idea is to improve people’s experience when dealing with government information online,” said Jed Sundwall, a contractor for and “We keep in the domain for usability reasons. It’s crystal clear, worldwide, that URLs point to trustworthy governmentt information.” Adriel Hampton talked with Jed Sundwall about on Gov 2.0 Radio last year. For more on how URLs work, watch Michele Chronister’s presentation from the last year’s Gov 2.0 Expo, below:

The new shortener began appearing online this Friday. According to Sundwall, ABC senior White House correspondent Jake Tapper was the first to use it when he linked to a PDF containing new unemployment information at the Bureau of Labor and Statistics: “For those asking follow-ups on unemployment, here’s the BLS link

Tapper is not alone, as many others have used the URL shortener simply by using the tools there already knew. “The beauty is that Jake used it without knowing he was using it,” said Sundwall. “We’re trying making it easy for anyone to identify .gov information as it’s being shared online,” said Sundwall.


Following are the GSA’s answers to frequently asked questions about

Why did we use when or would be shorter?
Including in the shortened URLs makes them more intuitive and meaningful to users worldwide. Many Internet users may not realize that .gov is the exclusive top-level domain of the U.S. government, and adds valuable context to the short URLs.

What if I don’t want a URL?

You can replace with or For example will go to the same place as or

Is owned by the Libyan government?

No. (@bitly is an American-owned company based in New York City. While .ly is the top level Internet domain assigned to Libya, this does not mean that Libya has any stake at all in, the ability to access’s data, or the ability to control’s servers. On the Quora website,’s CEO has addressed what would happen to if Libya were to shut off Internet access in Libya. Regardless, we use .gov URLs, and none of the servers that power this service (or any of’s servers) are located in Libya.

Who uses a similar service with

NY Times:

What does this mean for

We will still maintain as an option for government employees to use as a URL shortener, and URLs will continue to work.

Correction: an earlier version of this story referred to the new shortener as, as opposed to the shorter version. We regret the error.

Alexander B. Howard is a DC-based a technology writer and editor. Previously, he was the Washington Correspondent at O'Reilly Media, where he covered the voices, technologies and issues that matter in the intersection of government, technology and society. If you're feeling social, you can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or circle him on Google Plus In addition to corresponding for the O’Reilly Radar, he has contributed to the Huffington Post, Govfresh, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News and Forbes. He graduated from Colby College with a bachelor's degree in biology and sociology. Currently, he is a resident of the District of Columbia, where he lives with his greyhound, wife, power tools, plants and growing collection of cast iron pans, many of which are frequently used to pursue his passion for good cooking.


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