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This Week in URLs

A round-up of news and research on domain name fun.
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Ted Cruz (left) and Taylor Swift. (Photos: Gage Skidmore/Eva Rinaldi/Flickr/Max Ufberg)

Ted Cruz (left) and Taylor Swift. (Photos: Gage Skidmore/Eva Rinaldi/Flickr/Max Ufberg)

To the untrained eye, a URL might seem like nothing more than an unimportant string of letters, numbers, slashes, and dashes at the top of every website—a means to an end. Yet the URL is to a website what power steering is to a car: unsexy, totally necessary, and mostly unworthy of attention until something’s askew. From politicians to pop stars, this week saw an influx in stories concerning this oft-overlooked digital tool.


Not an hour after Texas Senator Ted Cruz announced his bid for the 2016 precedency earlier this week, social media began sharing—not in support of the senator, but because the logical place for the hopeful candidate’s digital home was anything but. The website, it’s clear, does not belong to the Republican, and is instead owned by a pro-immigration reform Obama supporter. The URL was purchased in April 2004 by a Phoenix-based law firm, the Washington Post reports, but has since fallen into the hands of this liberal Internet troll. Cruz has consequently been relegated to

But as the Washington Post points out, this likely won't have anything to do with the ultimate success or failure of Cruz's campaign. The most popular website on the Internet is Google, followed by Facebook—both sites will direct a user to another website without ever having to interact with or even view a URL. Sure, it’s an embarrassing gaffe, but according to Quantcast,—remember: that's his actual website— is the 2,156th biggest website in the country right now, while ranks 618,938.


In 2011, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a non-profit that coordinates and maintains domain suffixes, decided to expand the list of “generic top-level domains.” The original list of 22, which includes standards like .com, .net, and .org, has now grown to 548, encompassing the silly—.spreadbetting and .eurovision—to the self-explanatory, like .porn and .adult.

A bulk of these suffixes will become widely available on June 1, but ICANN, it was announced this week, has given select companies and brands a “sunrise period”—aka first dibs. Microsoft, for example, has already registered and Another suffix that will surely provide headaches for corporations down the line: .sucks.

Research suggests, however, that these imposer URLs may ultimately not matter that much to said companies. A study by Microsoft Research revealed that searchers today are well-versed in the digital landscape and know how to spot a good URL from a bad one—in other words, they have a discerning eye and aren't easily fooled. just might strike the average searcher as a bit peculiar.


Taylor Swift, ever the shrewd brand manager, quickly took advantage of this “sunrise period” and also bought up both and Of course, this isn’t because she plans to take her career in, err, another direction—she simply wants to avoid a more inappropriate Ted Cruz scenario down the line. And this shouldn’t come as a shock: As Business Insider points out, Swift has always been a keen businesswoman. She removed her music from Spotify because "piracy, file sharing and streaming have shrunk the numbers of paid album sales drastically." And USA Today notes that she recently trademarked the lyrics to “Shake It Off,” and posted a picture of her long-hidden belly button to avoid paparazzi getting a payday instead.

Last year, Georgia State University's Valerie Pollock empirically explored the phenomenon that is Taylor Swift. Pollock concluded that Swift's success, unsurprisingly, has in large part to do with her perceived innocence. “She hasn’t been to rehab, cussed on live TV, exposed her breast during a performance, or used cheeky lyrics to ‘secretly’ reference her vagina,” Pollock writes. “In a culture that shames women for their ‘mistakes,’ Swift has maintained a comparably uneventful storyline. Swift might be normative, but her success proves that her normativity is appealing to a large audience.” Her swift (no pun intended) purchasing of these potentially lude URLs, then, is not surprising in the slightest.

This Week In explores ongoing revelations and research on trending news topics.