Bitly Improves. Oh, and It's Free.

Bitly.com – the link (URL) shortener service that converts really long Web site addresses into a 6 character address following bitly.com/ – has made some improvements to their service.  Their free service.  Unfortunately, there were a lot of haters who expressed their antipathy, shall we say, for the changes.  In fact, they were going to WALK!

I hadn’t realized there was any fuss.  In fact, I’d been blithely adding Bit.ly links to my Twitter messages without even realizing anything had changed.  My bookmarklet for Bit.ly worked the same as ever.

When you log in to your Bit.ly account, things do look very different and the change is clearly distracting for people.  There is a segmentation now between your profile – what you shorten and who you are – and your network.  Meaning those who are part of your social network on Facebook or Twitter.  I’m not a huge fan of this social function.  So I don’t click on it.  Big deal.  Your links are publicly accessible but you can make them private when and if you want them to be.

I came across a bunch of features that are improvements, like:

  • you can add multiple Twitter accounts.  I have one personal account and then a second that I use for a non-profit annual event.  It will be nice to be able to integrate my view of these accounts and bit.ly links here;
  • I didn’t realize that – in addition to a custom short url (instead of bit.ly, you might have seen nytim.es) – you can have bit.ly monitor your own domain names (Settings > Advanced > Tracking domains), so that if someone is linking to www.ofaolain.com on bit.ly, I’ll know about it.

The way to access data about bit.ly links is different, no question.  I’m not sure it’s less clear than it was before but it’s certainly different.  Depending upon why you use bit.ly for link shortening – and I use it, in many cases, to see whether a link has been clicked on – you may find this aggravating.

It only took me a click to find out how to reach both my own click (click the i icon then click the number of saves/clicks on the left) results to the link as well as aggregate results.  The layout is about the same – and the Twitter information remains incorrect, in that it frequently fails to pick up tweets with the link in them – but certainly nothing starkly different.  It’s interesting to me that it shows which other bitly users have also flagged that link.  It means that I may have a new avenue for identifying people to follow on Twitter or elsewhere because we share similar items.

I ended up closing a bunch of the new right hand column widgets that were for those who intend to use this more socially.  I’ve installed the Chrome browser plug-in to see if my sense that Bit.ly is moving to something more like Delicious is accurate but I still prefer the bookmarklet for how I use the service.  The plug-in requires more information and I’m not sure it’s going to add value for me.   But 300K+ other people have also installed it, which is pretty impressive.

Which is free.  Did I say that?  And remains free.  And as much as it’s irritating and makes people want to switch to another (free) link shortener, I just can’t get myself worked up about it.  It’s a gift horse that I have used for roughly 3 years and will continue to use so long as I can shorten links and follow up on their use.  I’m glad that they’ve redesigned their site and added features or allowed older ones to float to the top.

[Posts on Bit.ly at my Finding Legal Info blog]