Earlier this evening, The NYTPicker noticed some Twitter chatter among NYT employees about what appeared to be a NYT web feature we'd never heard of before: www.nyturl.com. The twitters all had to do with the unusual message they found when they went to the web address:
Taken down for now due to abuse.
Those words appear ominously in the upper left hand corner of an otherwise completely blank screen. What do they mean? What is www.nyturl.com? Who did it belong to, and where did it go?
Some creative Googling turned up an information page that looked exactly like a nytimes.com web page, with considerable information about the site -- most of which made it look exactly like an official NYT website in the planning stages. It even shows up on a computer screen with a user's official nytimes.com account name in the upper right-hand corner.
What is a NytUrl?
Its more than a URL shortening service; it only allows links to trusted web sites, those news and noteworthy.
But wait there's more: it also allows you to cover many URLs with one short URL so you can get the most from one link.
Trusted Web Sites, More Than One Link?
Yes, when clicking a NytUrl you can be confident that you're not going to get a 80's pop song on YouTube, that you will only be sent to a small subset of trusted sites. Click here for a list.
Nothing about it can be found on nytimes.com. That's because it turns out to be a new, secret project being run by a web developer who works for the NYT, but without any direct affiliation with the NYT.
The twitter chain began tonight with Patrick LaForge, editor of the NYT's City Room blog, who twittered some friends about the "due to abuse" screen at the nyturl.com website. We followed the twitters to Michael Donohoe, whose website identifies him as a Brooklyn-based developer who "does fun interweb things for the New York Times."
Donohoe is directly involved in www.nyturl.com, but the project isn't connected to the NYT. Under the nyturl.com logo on his website -- designed with what appears to be an official nytimes.com font, or at least suggestive of it -- Donohoe has written the following description:
Also under development, this is a NYT specific (but not affiliated) URL shortening service.
Super secret details to be announced soon. Well, not really - its just a matter of finding time to fix the code. As of writing this has been taken down as I didn't finish debugging some new code. Sorry.
(By the way, Donohoe's web page has links to a whole bunch of cool new NYT projects he's working on, including a "Homepage Browser" that "takes hourly snapshots of the New York Times home page" and that is "not endorsed by the New York Times." Why not? Sounds rad!)
A post on Donohoe's twitter page elaborates slightly on his decision to take down the site tonight. His most recent twitter post:
never enjoy taking a site off line due to abuse. my own fault for liking to play with code outside of work.
So who was abusing Donohoe's little secret project? And how does the NYT feel about having one of its in-house developers working on an outside project that services nytimes.com readers? Will it be returning anytime soon?
We've contacted Michael Donohoe for answers to these questions and more information about his secret project. We'll update when we hear back. If anyone has any more knowledge of the nyturl.com project, we'd love to hear from you -- just leave us a comment.