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May 30th, 2012

Bit.ly Makes a Play for Publisher’s Attention

If you’re a user of bit.ly then you were likely taken aback at some point yesterday when the site refreshed and presented you with a brand new interface. The site, which is extraordinarily useful for shrinking links for use on status networks and then tracking the analytics of those links, made some significant changes to the user experience as it looks to expand beyond that initial functionality. But while there’s some good stuff in the redesign there are also some changes that are going to be quite jarring to current users.

First off, though, the goal of the redesign is that bit.ly wants to do more than shorten links. It wants to become a destination brand and so the way the changes are being positioned are around the ideas of saving, searching and sharing links.

So to aid those actions the top real estate of the page is no longer a big field inviting you to shorten a link. That’s now relegated to the top right of the page. Now the main action you’re invited to take is “Search” and just above that are prompts to view your Bundles, Profile and more.

There’s also a new section at the top titled “Your Network,” which shows you the public links – bitmarks in the new terminology – of your Facebook and Twitter friends who are using bit.ly. So there’s an immediate social networking component baked in that requires no effort. Sure, there may be some privacy concerns here but these are all public links anyway so those are minimal.

With that network in place one of the primary new actions that can be taken is to Save a link that someone else has created. This, it seems, is meant to act like saving a link to Delicious in that you’re not only putting that under and ancillary arm of your own social curation platform but also adding to the meta-data around the aggregate link, giving the original saver some insights as to how popular his material is.

What’s also been emphasized is the sharing of those links to Twitter and Facebook. There’s now a big megaphone button that invites you to share the links you save to those networks.

But all this new functionality has come at the expense of some basic usability. Shrinking and then copying a link was formerly a two-step process but is now four since you have to find the “Copy” prompt somewhere in the Information section. And stats for each link are now only found when you look at your overall Stats.

So if bit.ly wants to be a publishing platform how does it stack up? That’s still to be determined. It’s great if you’re sharing the link you’ve just shortened/saved at that moment but it lacks the scheduling features that most enterprise-level tools do. And there’s no engagement aspect to it that would allow you to participate in any conversations. So while it’s interesting and certainly has some useful features it is, right now, one of those “in the middle” situations where the core functionality is still very cool but where the added-on features don’t create, at least not yet, a compelling alternative to some.

There was quite a bit of backlash upon the initial announcement but, I think, a lot of that was overstated. There are certainly some things that could use a little tweaking but that’s true of a lot of platforms. It’s certainly a big change, which can be off-putting to a lot of people but it’s nothing that you can’t get used to with some usage and exposure.

About the Author
Chris Thilk works on the Client Services team, part of Voce Connect, developing and executing social media strategy. You can follow him at @christhilk on Twitter.

Filed in Publishing Programs, Social Networks

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