Twitter announced that it will start ‘wrapping’ all URLs through it’s URL ‘shortening’ service, t.co. This effectively ends the reason for many URL wrapping (or ‘shortening’) services that cropped up over the years.
However, companies like Bit.ly that started to meet this need for shorter URLs — largely because of Twitter’s 104 character limit — grew into media analytics services, tracking clicks and other access through URLs passed through Twitter, other services, and pasted into web sites.
However, Twitter has steadily encroached: first by creating t.co and using it to wrap long URLs, and recently, by rolling out its own analytics tools. Wrapping all URLs would appear to be the final nail in that coffin.
Not so, according to Hilary Mason, chief scientist of Bit.ly:
Nitasha Tiku via Betabeat
Twitter tweeted out a post today spreading the word that, “We’re about to start wrapping all URLs regardless of their length with the t.co URL wrapper.” But chief scientist Hilary Mason told Betabeat it’s no big deal for bit.ly. “We don’t expect to see any changes,” she emailed.
Ms. Mason pointed out that Twitter has essentially been doing the same thing since August 24th. “The only change is that they will now wrap links under twenty characters, which means that there will actually be tweets longer than 140 characters,” she wrote, adding, “It hasn’t had much of an effect on bitly. We provide public analytics that people love!” (It’s true, Betabeat does spend perhaps too much time on the bit.ly’s Info Page showing when and where your tweets were accessed.)
That doesn’t mean everyone remains unscathed by Twitter’s announcement, however. As Ms. Mason noted, “It’s much more of an issue for Twitter app developers than for us!”
This doesn’t really scan. Yes, Bit.ly can still do what it does, and Twitter’s moves in this area have been obvious for several years so Bit.ly has had a lot of time to adapt to a changing conetxt, with Twitter as a competitor. But it’s not sensible to assert that Twitter’s actions in this regard have no impact on Bit.ly.
[Tiku updated after talking this over with other folks.]
As Tom Critchlow, VP of Operations at Distilled NYC was quick to point out, if bit.ly’s strength is metadata, it may soon have some competition in that arena as well. “Twitter is definitely planning on rolling out more robust analytics,” Mr. Critchlow wrote Betabeat via Skype. As he pointed out, “This will likely be publisher driven (i.e. not public, but you can analyze the tweets of a site you control). So not quite killing all the features of bit.ly. But most of the use for bit.ly (via Twitter) that I see right now is from marketers who want to manage and track their own Twitter activity and I can imagine Twitter analytics providing a large part of that.” For more general link shortening, Mr. Critchlow hypothesized, “bit.ly is still the defacto choice.”
On the Distilled NYC blog back in August, Mr. Critchlow noted that Distilled received fewer direct visits than it had on the same day of the week for the previous six months after Twitter rolled out its t.co shortener.
“Obviously Hilary has access to data that I don’t and likely has more of a clue about bit.ly’s traffic stats,” Mr. Critchlow acknowledged. Indeed, we don’t know if marketers (or, ehem, bloggers, are the service’s only power users). “But it feels to me like once Twitter analytics roll out there will be much less of a need for bit.ly in the Twitter ecosystem,” he wrote.
Based on unverified Quantcast data, bit.ly’s traffic has been dropping since April, before Twitter started wrapping their URLs. But Ms. Mason responded by email, “I’m not familiar with how Quantcast calculates those numbers, but I doubt that it fully considers the bit.ly API or HTTP 301 redirects, which is where we see the majority of our traffic.”
“You also need to keep in mind that Twitter is only one social network,” she added. “Bit.ly is used widely across many networks. I’ll also reiterate my earlier point, which is that Twitter has been wrapping almost all links since August — I don’t see why wrapping the tiny remaining percentage will make a difference in how people use bit.ly.”
Bit.ly has established relationships with many media companies, but it seems obvious that Twitter would like to disrupt that cozy relationship. Considering that Twitter has pushed the metaphor of a ‘real-time information network’ there is no doubt that analytics around URL use are core functionality, and that Bit.ly and others now face their most serious competition: Twitter itself.