bit.ly and platforms …

Twitter announced this week that they were launching there own URL shortener.   There has been a lot of chatter about this over the past week.  I thought it would be helpful to write a about how the partnership worked and what bit.ly relationship is to platforms, Twitter and others.    To do something unusual for me let me let me cut to the chase.

Twitter.com pretty much stopped using bit.ly to shorten URL’s on Twitter.com in December.    Since last fall the bit.ly team and Twitter have been talking about this transition.    Today Twitter.com represents less than 1% of bit.ly links shortened — when the transition took place in December it was closer to 3-8%, depending on the UX on Twitter.com and the day.   We continue to work with the Twitter team and we are currently figuring out how to get key whitelabel URL’s working on Twitter.com.    The default shortening partnership worked well for a period of time – approximately six months — during a period of hyper growth. Today bit.ly is growing and continues to scale — irrespective of the change in rules last December re: shortening on Twitter.com.   That is the summary — the detailed version follows.

bit.ly was launched May of 2008.    By the first quarter of 2009 bit.ly was growing fast, scaling well and offering a handful of key features beyond shortening that users – of both the api and the website – found critical in terms of understanding social distribution — most importantly real time metrics*.    I believe Twitter’s insane growth trajectory started in December 2008 — by early 2009 many of the short URL’s on Twitter were struggling to keep up with the scale and growth and none of them offered the real time metrics that bit.ly had.   So Twitter and bit.ly entered into an agreement where bit.ly would become the default URL shortener for Twitter.     This feature rolled out in May 2009 and ran until December of 2009.

bit.ly knew this would be a short term agreement — it was done to help Twitter scale and without a doubt it helped bit.ly scale.     In late November / December 2009 Twitter.com stopped shortening URL’s — except under one very narrow use case (and if you can find out what that is I will send or buy you a drink!).    As Techcrunch reported this week bit.ly growth has continued.

When Twitter changed its shortener policy in December Twitter.com represented 3-8% of bit.ly links created everyday.    So the change was barely noticeable in bit.ly systems.    Today Twitter.com represents less than .5% of bit.ly links created or clicked on each day.     There are other social platforms that are now larger than Twitter.com.    Last month there were  3.4bn clicks on bit.ly links — up from 2.7bn in February and 2.5bn in January.    bit.ly is fairly big for a little company, handling billions of clicks and real time metrics for 100′s of million URL’s each day isnt trivial.    Someone noted earlier this week — they believe — Yahoo does about 7.5bn clicks a month on its search product — while these clicks are not comparable to the bit.ly click experience, in terms of reach and scale it’s an interesting benchmark.

On Tuesday we announced 6,000 sign up’s for bit.ly pro.   As of today that number is over 7,000 and have in the past 48hrs a subsset have signed up for the enterprise version — so revenue.    The companies up and running include: nyti.ms, amzn.to, binged.it, huff.to, 4sq.com, pep.si, and n.pr — along side a set of bloggers and individuals who use the bit.ly service for their URL’s.    And incidentally — this Wednesday was our first day ever where over 150m bit.ly links were clicked on.          (For more data and charts of historical growth see )

All that said the noise level out there is well, noisy — “is bit.ly screwed?”, “is bit.ly the next google?” seemingly, no one can make up their mind.    We can — we love bit.ly.    bit.ly is short, sweet and out of control.   Someone asked me last summer, “is bit.ly part of the internet”.     We are working hard to make it part of the internet or at least the social, real time web — in scale, breadth, trust and performance.  bit.ly is the tracking tool that many many people use to understand how many times a Tweet or a Facebook link was clicked on*.

We thank Twitter, everyone there, for the kick start it gave bit.ly.   And we certainly hope we helped Twitter during a difficult scaling period — that was the intent.    bit.ly still works and will continue to work on Twitter, most of the clients and Twitter related services use the API everyday and we are working right now with the Twitter team on some publisher related services.   And most of all we thank our users — end users who use the bit.ly web site to shorten, share and track everyday — bit.ly 1.3 will be out in the next few days and we hope you love it.   And we thank our API users.    The myriad of services who use our API to shorten and track and monitor the pulse of the real time web.   And publishers who are using it for domain level / enterprise tracking.

In terms of lessons learnt there are many — but four come to mind right now, all four relate to broader points about web platforms.   Over the past few years a set of platforms have emerged online that give start-up’s a foundation to get a kick start to building their audience and/or their business.   Adwords/Adsense were probably the first scaled examples of this. And as these platforms mature its important for their to be clear boundaries between what the platform provider does and doesn’t do. Granted these boundaries shift over time — but the boundaries have to be sustained for long enough for the platform provider to achieve scale and trust and to get a critical mass of applications running on it.  They also have to sustained long enough for businesses to be built on the platform, not just tweaks, real businesses.

To play out the Google example take the UX of Google.   Google understood they werent in the content business — they were in the navigation business.   So for years the Google site just pointed outward.   Now after 10 years the line is getting hazy in some areas — this is why the local search stuff, the yelp conversations resonate with people — Google has for what ever reason decided that local is something it needs to wrap more of an arm around local. How long is that arm? How detrimental is it to local players? i’m not sure? — but if i had to put a dollar down I would bet that Yelp and say Opentable will do just fine.    So — clear sustained boundaries are necessary.    The second point is that these boundaries become increasingly important and easy to define once the monetization approach of the underlying platform is defined.   Emphasis is the reason why this is seperate point to the first one — vs. a subset, this is vital.   The third point is that people bootstrapping on these platforms should also try to spread their relevance beyond a single platform – so Yelp should extend its business model beyond adsense, Zynga beyond Facebook etc. etc.    In 2010, unlike 10 years ago, we are building in a world of multiple, often overlapping platforms, its not a monolithic world anymore.    That is what Stocktwits has done, same for bit.ly, Tweetdeck, Someecards, OMGpop etc… all of these services have a leg in multiple platforms.

Lastly, talk about holes and filling holes in platforms is misleading at best.    Take a list of emerging to mature companies — great companies … Is Groupon a hole in Facebook? Facebook a hole in Google?? Google is a hole in Microsoft???  Microsoft in IBM????  Maybe it’s holes all the way down?    Innovation — building great companies — is about finding, filling and even creating holes.   But entrepreneurs should n’t — and most dont — focus on filling holes in other people’s platforms — they should think about how to build great things — things that in 2010 may be bootstrapped on platforms but great products, products that people love, products that move people to organize their world differently, or to see the world differently.   The slogan “Think different” captured most if not all of what entrepreneurs need.   After 30yrs of personal computing history we have a lot of platform and application history to draw from — Apple understands this very well, so does Google,  same for Microsoft, Amazon, and Ebay.  And yes — once again, the cycle of innovation is turning – great new platforms are emerging and great businesses will be developed on of these new platforms.

*/ note:  if you place a “+” on the end of any bit.ly link and you will see real time traffic to that link

  • http://twitter.com/L1AD LIAD

    great post.

    really surprised to see that twitter comprised such a small %age of encodes and decodes – great news for bit.ly and testament to the value of the service

  • http://www.andyswan.com andyswan

    Excellent

  • http://www.thelostagency.com/ David Iwanow

    wow, thats an amazing post and such a powerful insight into how a great product can grow and how a great company can become better, thank you!

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  • pete_hbm

    “except under one very narrow use case (and if you can find out what that is I will send or buy you a drink!)” > The @anywhere tweetbox ?

    • http://twitter.com/BenRegenspan Ben Regenspan

      The REST API (statuses/update query) is another of these use cases, unless anything's changed in the last few months, which is of course a possibility…

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  • http://avc.com fredwilson

    great post John

    i still use bit.ly for every link i send into the twitter ecosystem. it works very well for me and i suspect for everyone who uses it

    i think twitter is a particularly interesting case in the study of platforms because for a long time, probably up to the end of last year, the company could not focus on features because of the scaling issues you talk about. as a result much of what could have and should have been in the company's feature roadmap became opportunity for third parties.

    i am pleased that three things have changed at twitter this year; the monetization model has been revealed bringing clarity along with it, the company can now focus on features again, and the communication between the company and developers has been strengthened with things like Chirp and the investment in a full blown team for that part of the business

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  • http://justin-singer.com/ Justin S

    I had a sense that most of bit.ly's traffic didn't drive through the Twitter homepage, but I didn't realize it was that little. That's great. You guys have a great service. Thanks for continuing to make my life easier.

  • http://justin-singer.com/ Justin S

    I had a sense that most of bit.ly's traffic didn't drive through the Twitter homepage, but I didn't realize it was that little. That's great. You guys have a great service. Thanks for continuing to make my life easier.

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