I Never Meta URL Like You Before: A Short Domain Name Trick

Aug 13 2010 by Arley McBlain | 41 Comments

I Never Meta URL Like You Before: A Short Domain Name Trick

I love a good domain name. I sometimes look wistfully back at my youth and think about the swell URLs I would have bought if I had an inkling about what the Internet would become.

Today you’re lucky if you find a relevant, memorable domain that isn’t parked or in use — luckier still if it’s short.

With the traditional TLDs — top-level domains such as .com, .net, .org, and to some extent, locals like .ca and .co.uk — it’s getting more difficult to obtain short domain names without some creativity.

Every so often a new TLD shows up and there’s a gold-rush frenzy. When the .me extension came out, for instance, there was a bidding war on the domain name, aweso.me — a creative twist for a short and memorable URL.

I’ve long been waiting for a chance to snag a short domain name — and this is a story of how I was recently able to do so.

The Boring Technical Part

In May 2010, ICANN — the organization responsible for managing domain names and IP addresses — brought Internationalized Domain Names (IDN) to life.

This allows participating extensions to use characters and symbols from other alphabets. This is due to Unicode working with Punycode conversion.

What this meant is I was able to score the amazingly short URL ◉.ws, as well as ◉.◉.ws — in context, there are only 6 single letter domain names in existence today.

The Catch

It’s not all fun and games though. The obvious shortcoming is that ◉ (a Unicode dingbat symbol described as "fisheye") and other symbols aren’t exactly easy to type.

Secondly, most browsers (Opera and Safari are the exception) will change that character into the Unicode string: our nice circle dingbat character becomes http://xn--z1h.ws/ — not super presentational.

Email addresses using special characters (e.g. arley.mcblain@◉.ws) doesn’t work at the moment. When the actual symbol is used, Microsoft Outlook instantly crashes, and with the Unicode string, it will just throw back an error.

Lastly, and perhaps the most dumbfounding, the special characters render differently in browsers and seem immune to our CSS font styling wiles.

IE8 on left vs. Chrome on right Font difference for the ➲ symbol – IE8 on left vs. Chrome on right.

This standard is new, there’s a lot of catching up to be done.

Why Use IDNs?

Sure, taking advantage of IDNs isn’t perfect, but it has its uses. Short URLs are not only useful on services like Twitter where every character counts, but they are a status symbol. Symbols may not be practical, but it’s cool.

I guess if you’re really fussy and find the useless symbols thing too silly, you could be practical and actually use this for what it’s for: allowing you to buy domains in other languages with accents and other previously impossible characters.


Making Your Own

If you’re interested in obtaining your own short URLs using IDN, here are the steps you should take.

Step 1: Find the Symbol You Want

A great place to start is by checking out this list of Unicode characters on Wikipedia. It’s not a complete list, but it’s pretty extensive and is a good starting point.

Step 2: Test the Symbol on a Web Page in Different Browsers

Before spending a penny, you might want to test what the character looks like in the different browsers on a demo page (like this) to prevent the browser-related madness I highlighted above.

Step 3: Check Availability

I ended up using Domain Site to check and register the domain name. Since this is relatively new, your domain name registrant might not have the capability of registering IDNs.

Step 4: Set Up the Domain Name with Your Host

Your web host will likely require that you convert the symbol to the Unicode string first. Easy enough, just use a Unicode converter tool.

Share Your Short URLs

If you were inspired to grab a short URL because of this article, link to it in the comments and show us what you got.

Related Content

About the Author

Arley McBlain is a web designer, web developer, in Burlington, Ontario, Canada. If you’d like to keep in touch with the author, check out his personal site, ArleyM, and follow him on Twitter as @ArleyM.



August 13th, 2010

Really interesting (but not super practical)!

Alexandre Giesbrecht

August 13th, 2010

I tried many Unicode characters, just for the sake of it, and not one was available. And many combinations, like sdsd➎.com (which doesn’t mean anything) appear as taken. This on DomainSite. Strange.

Alexandre Giesbrecht

August 13th, 2010

BTW, even though it’s possible to register domain names with accents in Brazil, it’s not possible to use most Unicode characters.


August 13th, 2010

@Alexandre sadly .com isn’t with it yet, some newer more obscure TLDs are though. Check domainsite.com


August 13th, 2010

Thanks for the tip dude, I just bought ♡.io :D
I will set up this tonight :p

Jacob Gube

August 13th, 2010

@Rydgel: Nice one!

Pete Naish

August 13th, 2010

I’ve just picked up nai.sh, and I’ll be using pete.nai.sh as my web design portfolio! I love it!


August 13th, 2010

It might just be me having issues, but I’m finding it hard getting DomainSite to work with symbols. Well all domain sites to be honest. Do you have any more sites that might work with symbols?


August 13th, 2010

Wonderful idea, ❤.la says hello! :D


August 13th, 2010

do you think we’ll see keyboards with unicode toggle anytime soon? someone should manufacture that, though i’m not sure if it’d be very practical when the whole encoding business is still quite messy…

Arshad Cini

August 13th, 2010

After reading this post,i just got a dictionary and look for interesting domain names with TLDs like aweso.me:)

Thanks for the post Arley

Alexandre Giesbrecht

August 13th, 2010

@ArleyM domainsite.com accepted the accented characters, but I ran on the smae problem I mentioned above: If I searched for a meaningless expression with no Unicode special characters on it, the results would turn out ok (i.e.: everything available, like happens with a search for “thisissomethingreallysilly”). But if I added those special characters there appeared many options as taken. I just repeated it with “thisissomethingrea➀➀ysilly” as a search, and all of these appear as taken, which is really doubtful: thisissomethingrea➀➀ysilly.com, .me, .te, .biz, .us, .cc, .tv, .info and .net. If I search for just one Unicode special character, I get only taken options, with no other suggestions on the left list below.


August 13th, 2010

The title of this article is enough for me to respect you for a lifetime.


August 13th, 2010

Also theres t.co, twitters .co domain, thats a single letter TLD.

If you could merge this with my other comment thatd be super.


August 14th, 2010


Welcome to the world of IDNs. A couple of corrections.

It has been possible to register IDN .com domains since 2001. So the best names (for example, москва.com, “Moscow” in Russian) have been taken long ago. However, there are still many good ones left.

The IETF has a list of which Unicode characters are allowed in IDNs: http://tools.ietf.org/id/draft-ietf-idnabis-tables-09.html (scroll past the intro material). Sadly, most symbols (fish eyes, arrows, musical notes, smiley faces, etc) are not allowed. Some registries (.ws for example) ignore the IETF list, and let you register anything. Others (.com and .net) conform to the list. So register symbols at your own risk; the IETF list may become mandatory some day.

For much more information on IDNs, visit idnforums.com, idnblog.com, and idndemystified.com.

Happy domaining!



August 14th, 2010

Which registrar are selling these?


August 14th, 2010

interesting to read about short domain names

thanks for sharing !


August 14th, 2010

Very nice!
BTW. Chrome warns for malware on http://xn--z1h.ws/

Stop The Nonsence

August 14th, 2010

You people need to stop purchasing domains that no one can type into the URL:
IDNs have been around for the part 10 years. its only this year its becoming available in IDN.IDN on both sides of the dot starting with ccTld’s. China, AE, Egypt, Russia getting one and so are many other countries. Full domains in native languages: Arabic, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Hebrew……
Do some research, type IDN domains in Google. Join the forum.
Go to Wikipedia and instead of looking for Unicode characters, type in IDN. Trust me you will thank me later.

I believe the characters you are regging “◉.ws” may be prohibited by IDNA2008 and are a waste. Some of them may be valid, you better double check, but even if they are then who cares, you can’t type them on the keyboard with a keystroke.


August 14th, 2010

Argh me hearts! SLAP day approaching.

Jacob Gube

August 14th, 2010

@Stop The Nonsence: Don’t know if you’re trolling or not, but in case you’re not: read the article. Thanks.

Gimme a break

August 14th, 2010

Stop The Nonsense is telling it like it is if you really want to know about IDN and the benefits to languages other than English do a bit of research and stop wasting your money on names that cannot be typed from any keyboard and mean nothing

The IDN revolution has taken 10 years to get here embrace it if you wish, it’s a huge opportunity, but get it right!

Jacob Gube

August 14th, 2010

@Gimme a break: Read the article. Thanks.


August 14th, 2010

Nice post the title of the post is very interesting.Some time ago I even started looking for 2 and 3 letter domain names, only to discover that they were all gone… so 4 letter is as short as you can go.According to the tool there are approximately 28,000 4 letter domain names still available. Most of them are unpronounceable words like bqhj.com or pqhn.com, and that is where the tool comes handy. You can specify letters for each position, so just stick some vowels in there, hoping to come up with something useful.


August 14th, 2010

Jocob, they DID read the article.

Although symbol domains work right now, when the IDNA2008 standard comes into being, those symbol domains will no longer work because new updates to browsers will NOT recognise them as legal domain names. IDNA2008 is supported at the system/browser level, rather than at DNS, so even though ccTLD’s like ws are happily selling you symbol IDN’s they are doing so knowing full well that they will stop working very soon (possibly within a year) – they are RIPPING YOU OFF.

If you want to learn more about IDN’s (both language related and symbol related) you should check out idnforums.com – that’s the holy grail.

Mikel King

August 14th, 2010

This is all very interesting. I suspect that if these special character based names ever became available then company’s like Target will snap them up faster than us common folk. Considering that the fisheye thingie looks a lot like their logo.

Still it’s all kind of cool…

Gimme a break

August 14th, 2010

Jacob Gube- great to see your meaningful an insightful responses to myself & Stop The nonsense.

I have read the article and subsequently responded to some ofit.

The author states:

“I guess if you’re really fussy and find the useless symbols thing too silly, you could be practical and actually use this for what it’s for: allowing you to buy domains in other languages with accents and other previously impossible characters.”

He confirms that they,symbols,are worthless but if you really want to find value then use IDN as they are meant to be used.

Surprisingly there are many people in the world who neither read,write nor speak English and may want to embrace the opportunity to use their own language.

Could happen you know!


August 15th, 2010

For the rendering difference, are you absolutely sure they are both using the same font? Try something like Arial Unicode MS on both IE and Chrome, and see if they render the same then.

Martin Stark

August 15th, 2010

With that title there was no way I could avoid reading this article, awesome.

Nice writing, and I envy ❤.la …


August 16th, 2010

It’s 7 now, e.co is one of one letter domains.


August 16th, 2010

This feature is very cool but when SEO comes into the game, unicode domains are not the best choice.

Gus the Gamer

August 16th, 2010

IDNs are like proctologist, you know they exist but want nothing on that.


August 17th, 2010

Reading this article just made everyone who read it 10% stupider then they already are. This has nothing to do with real IDNs. All the character domains are about to be history and so is the money you paid for it.


August 18th, 2010

Very cool article. I have a bunch of them I use from time to time for fun like http://✐.ws or http://⇄.ws


August 20th, 2010

huh? good luck trying to verbaly communicate a domain like http://xn--z1h.ws/ ie ◉.ws


August 23rd, 2010

Try something like Arial Unicode MS on both IE and Chrome, and see if they render the same then.

Caitlin - BrandBucket

August 30th, 2010

Very interesting! This works for blogs and personal sites where traffic isnt as important but not so great for businesses.


December 27th, 2010

If you’re looking for short IDN, you can look on this list: http://www.lâ.com/

It’s a list of available IDN domain names with 2 characters.


Blitzer Marius

February 21st, 2011

I agree with you about short domain names!


July 2nd, 2011

Got some of them, just for fun and url shorteners:


Leave a Comment

Subscribe to the comments on this article.