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Jul 18 2008   11:40AM GMT

Bit.ly: A better URL shortener for developers, data geeks and microbloggers

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

The old adage about not reinventing the wheel doesn’t quite extend to Web applications. URL shorteners may have been around for years but there is plenty of room for improvement. This list of 68 URL shorteners from Honkiat.com show both the competition in the space and the need for innovation. There’s certainly plenty of demand: TinyURL.com, for instance, which has been around since 2002, purports to receive over 1.5 billion hits a month. While that seems a little high, the emergence of character-limited microblogging platforms like Twitter and long, forgettable Web addresses spit out by content management systems has resulted in a need for effective ways to simply Web addresses.

Enter bit.ly. Bit.ly was created by Betaworks, the NY-based software concern that created Summize. Summize was recently acquired by Twitter, if you’re not following the rapidly evolving Web.20 startup space.

Dave Winer used a post announcing the launch of bit.ly on scripting.net to explain why bit.ly fills a number of other needs:

“They asked what it would take for me to use bit.ly, I said: data. I need to know how many clicks each pointer got and where the clicks came from. They gave me that, and thumbnails, permanent caching of the pages I’m pointing to (goodbye linkrot) and a lot of smart stuff going on behind the scenes that we’re not ready to talk about yet. (Though we told Marshall and he explained.) Here’s the info page for this post.

And, most important, an XML/JSON interface, so I can process all that data with my own programs. Here’s the XML readout for the shortened link to this post.”You can use your own keywords to the URL, organizing your links like tags.

Winer also notes that he’s a minority investor in the service, so while you can take his words with a grain of salt, try the service out and weigh its merits for yourself.

 I will say,  however, that bit.ly is easily the best URL shortener I’ve used to date.  It accomplishes its core mission quickly and easily, converting long URLs to short ones on the bit.ly homepage or using a bookmarklet you can drag to your Web browser’s toolbar. (It’s even kinda cute; note the blowfish mascots on the right.)

If you’re a Web developer or simply a data geek, the ability to pull all of the data about a given shortened URL through a XML or JSON interface will be quite helpful for analyzing your traffic and audience behavior.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of bit.ly’s other nifty features:

  • display your 15 most recent shortened URLs below the entry field
  • tracking of both clicks on shortened URLS and referring pages
  • an API for creating shortened URLs from web applications, which is quite useful is you’re a Web developer
  • automatic creation of thumbnail images that can be displayed on a webpage next to shortened URL

If my excitement about bit.ly doesn’t move you, Marshall Kirkpatrick has posted a glowing review of bit.ly at ReadWriteWeb that thoroughly explains why bit.ly is worth a try, along with an endorsement of bit.ly’s advanced URL tracking capabilities by Lifehacker.

If you like bit.ly, please recommend it to others. The larger the bit.ly community grows, the more effective and useful this nascent index of the Semantic Web will become. That’s because bit.ly is analyzing all of the pages that its users create shortcuts to using the Open Calais semantic analysis API from Reuters. All the data gathered is available in public RSS feeds. bit.ly is also using the MetaCarta GeoParsing API to draw geolocation data out of the database of submitted links.

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