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What does it mean that digital technologies are increasingly a part of...
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.
John Borthwick announces (at last) the release of News.me, a social news app, for the iPad:
For a while now at bitly and betaworks, we have been thinking about and working on applications that blend socially curated streams with great immersive reading interfaces.
Specifically we have been exploring and testing ways that the bitly data stack can be used to filter and curate social streams. The launch of the iPad last April changed everything. Finally there was a device that was both intimate and public — a device that could immerse you into a reading experience that wasn’t bound by the user experience constraints naturally embedded in 30 years of personal computing legacy. So we built News.me.
News.me is a personalized social news reading application for the Apple iPad. It’s an app that lets you browse, discover and read articles that other people are seeing in their Twitter streams. These streams are filtered and ranked using algorithms developed by the bitly team to extract a measure of social relevance from the billions of clicks and shares in the bitly data set. This is fundamentally a different kind of social news experience. I haven’t seen or used anything quiet like it before. Rather than me reading what you tweet, I read the stream that you have selected to read — your inbound stream. It’s almost as if I’m leaning over your shoulder — reading what you read, or looking at your book shelves: it allows me to understand how the people I follow construct their world.
As with many innovations, we stumbled upon this idea. We started developing News.me last August after we acquired the prototype from The New York Times Company. For the first version we wanted to simply take your Twitter stream, filter it using a bitly-based algorithm (bit-rank) and present it as an iPad app. The goal was to make an easy to browse, beautiful reading experience. Within weeks we had a first version working. As we sat around the table reviewing it, we started passing our iPads around saying “let me look at your stream.” And that’s how it really started. We stumbled into a new way of reading Twitter and consuming news — the reverse follow graph wherein I get to read not only what you share, but what you read as well. I get to read looking over other people’s shoulders.
News.me is a sort of reading triangulation tool. If someone you follow is a great curator, much of that is due to what they are reading, so ‘looking over their shoulder’ can be a great leg up on gaining a better understanding of the world, or some corner of it.
[disclosure: I am an advisor to Bit.ly and Betaworks, and have a financial interest in the company.]
John Abell takes a close look at Taptu, and likes the flow:
Taptu sticks with some familiar (dare I say boring) metaphors and UI conventions, like vertical scrolling thumbnails. And the basic ingredients of your stone soup are also the same, like the ability to import from your Google Reader, pick from “featured” feeds and browse pre-curated topics.
But Taptu’s secret sauce lets you mash up “mixed streams.” Rather than serve up every feed as a single, walled-off source, you can combine them with each other, websites and searches ad infinitum into what then becomes a single feed. On the web, this isn’t new — Google Reader lets you create “folders” — but in the cramped environment of a tablet screen this is a boon. Taptu even says mixed streams are de-duped — if the same item appears more than once, it’s because it shows up in more than one of your sources, it shows up in your feed only once.
Then, you can share your own dynamic publication with the Taptu universe, and on the internet, even with people who don’t use the app — a nifty and fearless nod to the blurred line that should exist between the closed world of apps and the open and limitless web.
Erich Schonfeld does a once over on News.me, the new Betaworks/NY Times collaboration on social news. He is likes what he sees:
News.me is a social news reading app that presents the news that the people you follow on Twitter are reading, and filters it based on how many times those stories are shared and clicked on overall. It pulls in data from not only Twitter but alsobit.ly, the betaworks company that shortens billions of shared links every month.
News.me is still a work in progress, and new features are being added every few days. but its basic skeleton is in place. It is more along the lines of Flipboard but with a few new twists. You sign in with your Twitter account, and you can see a stream of news stories and videos being viewed by the people you follow in their Twitter streams. Instead of just seeing the links, the underlying text and images are displayed inline. Not only can you see your own Twitter news stream, but you can also see the Twitter news streams of any other News.me users who you also follow on Twitter. These people should already be familiar to you, but instead of seeing what they are Tweeting out, you get to see the news that is being recommended to them by the people they follow.
That’s the fundamental hook of News.me. You get to see my upstream articles: those being recommended to me by those that I follow. You can already see what I recommend — just follow me on Twitter — but this shows what’s upstream of that.
As I have said many times, the most interesting aspect of curation is not what you recommend, but where you are positioned in the sprawling, worldwide, social network. Where you position yourself determines what you get to see, the raw material from which recommendations come.
I think News.me is headed in an interesting direction, but I agree with Erich’s recommendations for improvements:
- Merge the streams: It’s cool to be able to click on 20 different avatars of people you know from Twitter and see the social news stream through their eyes, but if you are anything like me, the people you follow pretty much all tend to be interested in the same things. The result is that Everyone’s News.me stream is very similar with the same tech news stories popping up in each one. There is an option to mute a story once you’ve read it so that it does not appear again even in other people’s streams. But a better solution is to show a unified stream with a little avatar icon for everyone who is implicitly recommending that story.
- Show more signals: In addition to showing everyone in whose stream a particular story appears, News.me could also highlight when someone you follow explicitly recommends something by retweeting it or sharing it themselves. Anything that allows readers to tell at a glance which stories are more important than others would be a step forward.
- Filter by topic: Right now there is only one “Big News” button based on bit.ly data, but that button could be broken up into categories like politics, international, tech, sports, and finance. Show me the best news stories in each category.
A pilcrow is a typographic term for the paragraph marker that many publishers use, such as the New York Times. It looks like this: ‘¶’.
This has come into recent prominence since the NY Times has implemented anchors on every paragraph of its news stories, so that every paragraph has a distinct URL. To access the URL you can double tap the shift key when viewing a NY Times page in a browser, and pilcrows appear at the head of every paragraph, serving as the place to copy the paragraph specific URL.
This allows a simple way to direct someone to a specific paragraph in a news story, instead of qualifying a URL to the story’s page by saying ‘3/4ths down the page, he writes…’.
This techniques is also called Winerlinks by some in recognition of Dave Winer’s use of these anchors, and the NY Times is referring to them as Deep Links.
Or one that highlights a specific sentence in a specific paragraph:
I find it interesting that no one has considered this in terms of the adoption of stream-based social tools, where the use of URLs is increasingly not about navigation, but of fetching. Instead of clicking on a URL to a photo in my twitter stream, my Twitter client pulls the photo and resolves it in the context of my streaming application.
One of the principles of the web of flow is the fragmentation of older, page-based media into easily streamable bits. And for that to work, each fragment has to have a unique ID, which is exactly what deep links are all about.
So, clever Twitter tool developers will soon be implementing deep links, and hopefully so will content management systems.
So in a few weeks time, I might post this:
I think Krugman is dead on about the Irish http://sto.ly/eevbPT
where the shortened URL was based on a much more complex structure:
And if you click on it you’d be taken to the NYTimes, which would resolve it like this:
And I would expect a hypothetical Twitter client, one that implements deep links, to show me something like this:
I think Krugman is dead on about the Irish http://sto.ly/eevbPT
O.K., these days it’s not the landlords, it’s the bankers — and they’re just impoverishing the populace, not eating it. But only a satirist — and one with a very savage pen — could do justice to what’s happening to Ireland now.
The Irish story began with a genuine economic miracle. But eventually this gave way to a speculative frenzy driven by runaway banks and real estate developers, all in a cozy relationship with leading politicians. The frenzy was financed with huge borrowing on the part of Irish banks, largely from banks in other European nations.
Then the bubble burst, and those banks faced huge losses. You might have expected those who lent money to the banks to share in the losses. After all, they were consenting adults, and if they failed to understand the risks they were taking that was nobody’s fault but their own. But, no, the Irish government stepped in to guarantee the banks’ debt, turning private losses into public obligations.
As we want to pull more context — to create deeper meaning — we can expect the URLs to get more and more sophisticated, representing much more than a physical address on the web, but instead emphasis, and contrast.
Bit.ly recently introduced bundles — collections of URLs bundled together. Combined with capabilities like deep links you can start to imagine very sophisticated ways to represent a collection of viewpoints on a contentious issue, for example, or a series of posts on a specific theme. It will require more tooling to help those that are curatorially minded to create these collations, or every to devise a complex deep URL like the one in my example above.
There’s a lot of moving parts: better CMS, like the NY Times has implemented; better Twitter (or other streaming media) clients, that would resolve these elaborate URLs effectively; and better tools for creating the complex URLs for curators.
But I bet it will all come together very quickly, indeed.
[disclosure: I am an advisor to Bit.ly, and have a financial stake in the company’s outcome.]
Google is taking steps to become the major URL shortener, by adding a website for their solution, goo.gl.
This is an obvious attempt to take the high ground in the curious stratum of URL shorteners; a layer of the web made necessary by the rise of microstreaming applications like Twitter, where the space limitations put a premium on brevity.
[Disclosure: I am a consultant to Bit.ly, and have a financial interest in the company.]
There are many shorteners out there with great features, so some people may wonder whether the world really needs yet another. As we said late last year, we built goo.gl with a focus on quality. With goo.gl, every time you shorten a URL, you know it will work, it will work fast, and it will keep working. You also know that when you click a goo.gl shortened URL, you’re protected against malware, phishing and spam using the same industry-leading technology we use in search and other products. Since our initial release, we’ve continued to invest in the core quality of the service:
- Stability: We’ve had near 100% uptime since our initial launch, and we’ve worked behind the scenes to make goo.gl even stabler and more robust.
- Security: We’ve added automatic spam detection based on the same type of filtering technology we use in Gmail.
- Speed: We’ve more than doubled our speed in just over nine months.
And of course, Google wants the very best, up to the millisecond information to inform its algorithmic decisions about what ads to place on the page they are sending you to.
The market leader in the space has been Bit.ly, for some time. Early leading options have fallen to the wayside, like cli.gs and tr.im, as it became clear that the costs of managing a URL redirection capability could be high and the returns low (or non-existent) without a capacity for large scale and some way to make money off the information lurking in the clickstream. Note that Google’s announcement implicitly plays to the fear that some tiny start-up might not be around to serve the click weeks or months later; but Google certainly will.
I was involved in the formation of 301works.org, which is now a project of the Internet Archive, intended to backstop URL shorteners, so in case a URL shortener go out of business their clicks can still be served up. But even as the director of that effort, I realized that it was a stopgap, an interim solution, awaiting market maturation. After all, once billions a day of short URLs are being clicked, there is so much value in learning what is being clicked on an aggregate basis that end users would be presented with a choice of large, stable URL shorteners — like Google, Twitter, and Bit.ly — none of which are likely to go out of business.
And the clickstream is where the realtime analytics are lurking: who is clicking what right now. This is what Bit.ly and now Google have been aggregating, and this will be informing real-time trend analysis in the future.
Many have said that URL shorteners are evil (like Joshua Schachter), because they introduce overhead into every click, and they also increase the likelihood that such clicks might fail, because the service involved with resolving your www.cli.gs/8762ji2 link may no longer be around. 310works.org, goog.gl, and Bit.ly solve some of the issues involved in this argument, but not entirely.
But the battle will be around speed and analytics. No one, especially a large publisher or online retailer, wants to have a huge slowdown on every click. However, their backend servers are designed to do very slow aggregation of click data — my Google analytics account shows me yesterday’s data today, for example, which is completely unusable for publishers or just-in-time inventory planning.
And of course, Google wants the very best, up to the millisecond information to inform its algorithmic decisions about what ads to place on the page they are sending you to. Not just based on the old sort of clickstream — the series of clicks made by an individual that leads her to some page on the web — but the new sort of clickstream: all the clicks that are being made by the world, or perhaps better, by the corner of the world that comprises my network. That would inform the best ads, the best search hits, the best user experience for each individual.
Google has added some neat extras:
This last feature is something that goo.gl does not provide today, but I expect they will be. In fact, BackType would be a perfect acquisition for Google in their war for the clickstream.
The hush-hush News.me development project at Betaworks — based on technology acquired from the NY Times — has been leaked to the press, by Mashable’s Jolie O’Dell. Few details have been revealed, but John Borthwick, CEO of Betaworks said “We’re building something wonderful and amazing in the social news space.”
No real details, just vague allusions to personalized and customized news. Seems like the news led Betaworks to launch the News.me stealth website on Thursday.
Update: I have been informed that it appears that Jenna Wortham at the NY Times (Betaworks and The Times Plan a Social News Service) was the first to break this story (thanks @mathewi).
[disclosure: I am an advisor to Betaworks, and have a financial interest in Bit.ly, one of the incubators product companies.]
Looks like GoDaddy has entered the short URL marketplace by knocking off Bit.ly.
You create an account or login with an existing one and then you can create x.co short URLs, including customized URLs. I created x.co/cdixon linking to his recent ‘Things I’d do if I ran a big VC firm’ post.
They have stats, like Bit.ly, although they don’t make a separation of links from the URL you created or clicks on other created URLs, or maybe I don’t get the ‘total referrer clicks’ figure:
I have to admit, x.co is as short as you can go, so I will now be on the lookout to see if GoDaddy starts to get some play in this world.
The ‘share’ interface is really ugly:
It makes me think that their icon images aren’t being rendered and I can seeing the text replacement.
The tool seems adequate, although no reason for me to switch from Bit.ly that I can see, unless it were to grab a custom URL.
[disclosure: I am an advisor to Bit.ly and have a financial interest in the company]