Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

The Reinvention of Bitly: A Social Bookmarking Site for Mainstream Users

Over the past four years, Bitly has become an important online utility, helping people save, shorten, share and track 80 million new links per day.

But Bitly wants to be more than a souped-up link shortener, and today it is relaunching its site as a social bookmarking aggregator, a la Delicious or Pinterest.

Bitly is already at the center of lots of online activity — but only as a conduit. It has become a massive infrastructure project; more than 25 billion Bitly links have been created, and they get clicked on 300 million times per day. Following Bitly’s lead, Twitter, Facebook and Google all launched their own link shorteners.

The new Bitly site, which is rolling out to users starting today, is now centered around personal pages of saved links — kind of like the simplest blog you could imagine.

Instead of bookmarks, Bitly calls these “bitmarks.” Users can create bundles of bitmarks on a certain topic, write personal notes about them and make them public, private or co-curated.

Then there are a bunch of things people can do with their links and other people’s links:

  • They can search through them with a very fast search engine.
  • They can save them for nicely formatted reading offline in an iPhone app.
  • They can tell Bitly to add any link they post to Twitter to their bitmarks, even if it wasn’t originally saved through Bitly.
  • They can look through an aggregated “network view” of all the things their Facebook and Twitter contacts have shared, like a Facebook News Feed, but just for interesting links. (Note: This network view currently can’t be viewed on mobile, which is too bad, as it could be a nice way to gather offline reading materials; I suppose it might be a copyright issue.)
  • They can see all sorts of interesting stats about who was first to share each link, and how much it has been viewed globally.

Unlike the current Bitly, which is a tool for power users and paying enterprise customers, the redesigned site is explicitly meant to be a mainstream consumer product, Bitly Head of Product Matthew Rothenberg told me. “The URL is the basic unit of currency for the Web. Finding and sharing is something that affects everyone,” he contended.

But Rothenberg — who previously led product at Yahoo’s Flickr and joined Bitly a year ago with the intent of building this consumer product — said that Bitly’s current functionality would remain intact for its existing users.

Bitly product head Matthew "Mroth" Rothenberg

Basically, the new consumer Web site is a way to invert what Bitly has done for four years, and to make a bid to be a destination rather than just a pass-through for traffic.

But why do a social bookmarking site now? Haven’t so many people tried that without mainstream success, until the photo-driven Pinterest?

About the competition, Rothenberg replied, “We are much more focused on this notion of a utility product, in which you can save and organize any URL to any destination; and if you don’t want to share it, you can save it privately, as well.”

Also, for the moment, Bitly also isn’t doing any automated “Open Graph” sharing out to Facebook, leaving on the table a potential big driver of traffic and new users. That was a conscious decision. “We want to make sharing an explicit action,” Rothenberg explained.

Bitly, which spun out of Betaworks and has also recently been discussed as an acquisition target, is backed by RRE Ventures and others, and is in the process of raising Series C funding, as has been reported (though The Verge initially implied the funding round had closed, and from what I understand it has not yet).

Update: Bitly Stands by Redesign Despite User Complaints

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald