Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

An Oversized Ruckus About Tiny Web Addresses: Bit.ly’s Bigfoot Offer to the Rest of the Business

godfather-funeralAre you up in arms about the impending demise of tr.im, one of the many services that shorten long Web addresses? Here’s a possible solution, offered by bit.ly, the industry’s bigfoot: A nonprofit archive/graveyard for tr.im’s tiny addresses, along with anyone else who wants to participate.

John Borthwick, who funded bit.ly via his Betaworks investment group, explains the details of his offer here, along with a bit of pro forma condolence for the demise of his competitor: “Sad day yesterday to see tr.im announce that they are shutting their doors, after failing to make a business of a nice service with a great URL.”

To me, that sounds a bit like a mafia don shaking his head a tad wistfully after hearing that one his old rivals got bumped off, then sending a big bouquet to the funeral. And I think that the tr.im team, as well as some of bit.ly’s other competitors, may take it in the same vein.

UPDATE: I spoke to Eric Woodward, CEO of Tr.im’s parent company Nambu Networks. As I thought, he’s uninterested in working with Bit.ly, either directly or via 301works, the third party archive Borthwick has proposed. His response: “Why would I want to upload all my of data to Bit.ly?” When I suggested that this might be a good move for his users, he allowed that it still might happen — if he can’t find a buyer for Tr.im. And that’s a distinct possiblity: Woodward said he has been looking for a buyer for the past few months, without success.

But Borthwick’s proposal also sounds like a good one to me. I’ll let the wiser Webheads explain whether it’s a real solution for the problem that tr.im’s failure will create for the Web, namely, the notion that lots of Web addresses, shortened for use in social Web services like Facebook and Twitter, will stop working one day.

And if you do think it’s a real problem and not just an annoyance for the service’s users, as well as for Web sites that got referral traffic from the service, then someone’s going to need to think of something. We’re going to see more of this.

That’s because if there is any business at all in URL-shortening, it’s going to be a scale business that ends up in the hands of a couple competitors, max. Just like search. And that means that dozens of mom-and-pop competitors (here’s a visual snapshot, taken last fall, of 117 URL-shorteners) are going to fall by the wayside.

Right now Bit.ly looks to be the Google (GOOG) of URL-shortening, and there is some griping that it got that status unfairly, via a deal with Twitter that made it the service’s default shortener last May (type a long Web address into the message box on Twitter’s Web page, and the service will automatically convert it into a bit.ly link–like this). Not true, says Borthwick–the Twitter deal helped, but it’s not responsible for the majority of Bit.ly’s traffic.

But there’s no reason for Borthwick, Bit.ly or Twitter to be defensive about the deal. If Twitter wants to pick a preferred vendor/partner/developer for any or all of its services, it should do so. It’s not going to do that very often; one of the main reasons that Twitter has taken off is the ecosystem of developers who have built innovative stuff using the service’s open architecture, and it won’t want to discourage that.

And if Twitter wants to work with someone it’s already doing business with–prior to Twitter’s most recent funding round, Betaworks owned a sizable slug of Twitter’s stock, via Twitter’s acquisition of Betaworks portfolio company Summize a year ago–there’s no problem with that, either.

In any case, the Bit.ly/Betaworks guys have other things to worry about. They still need to figure out how to take the data stream they’re mining from all those tiny Web addresses they’re making and do something useful/valuable with it.

Then again, so does Twitter.


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus