The first few times I tried to use Twitter, it was enormously frustrating: here’s a fairly cool tool that lets me instantly communicate—with nobody.
Using bit.ly means a different kind of frustration: if you’ve ever posted a link to Facebook and Twitter, and watched in real time while the clicks add up, it can get annoying to post a link without using bit.ly. Which is why I think I can guess bit.ly’s next feature. The feature that, in a few months, will make people forget that it was ever a URL shortener.
Here’s the feature bit.ly needs to build: a way to get the same analytics on any web page you control. You can’t submit a shortened link to a news aggregator, and you might get filtered if you put one in an email. But if you get bit.ly analytics on your own site, you’d get the same real-time advantage—with a twist.
The twist: it would be pretty easy for bit.ly to let you add URL argument telling it to track track different sets of clicks: you might submit example.com/mypage?reddit to one site, and email example.com/mypage?friends, to see which group is more likely to click.
There would be no reason not to use bit.ly-fied URLs at every opportunity. They would make it easier to measure your site’s popularity—not just on Twitter, but through RSS, email, and other random sources. You’d be able to see how a link spreads, and you’d be able to test different variations on the same content.
Anyone could do this in theory, and tracker codes on URLs already exist. But bit.ly has an interface, accounts, and Metcalfe’s law on their side.
People think of bit.ly as a URL shortener that does real-time analytics. I think of them as a real-time analytics company that happens to be growing fastest in URL shortening. But there are a hundred million reasons to think that the technical limitation that spawned the URL shortener will disappear soon. There’s no reason to think that real-time analytics will suffer the same fate.
When I finish this post, I’ll probably email it to some people who might be interested; I might also post it on a bookmarking site. After that, I’ll wonder whether or not it got read. But I’ll also use a bit.ly link to post it to Facebook and Twitter—and right away, I’ll know.