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“Open Internet” tools series – Chapter Three: bit.ly

The following is the third in a semi-irregular series of posts on Internet tools and utilities.  Today’s tool is truly one of my favorites!  It will help you both communicate and track information (as well as make Web addresses shorter):  bit.ly

It’s hoped that these tools will make your “screen time” hours more efficient and productive, rather than more numerous.   All the tools featured in this series have the following in common:

  • They are available “free” on the Internet (although an initial sign-up, also free, is usually required)
  • They have some utility in the world of the Internet, education, and libraries
  • I, personally, use each of these tools regularly

3:  bit.ly

  • Example of how I use it: http://bit.ly/nbm7P
  • My first use: February(?) 2009
  • How and why I use it: If you want to make a URL shorter, there are many options.  First, though, why would you want to make a URL shorter at all?  Well, there’s Twitter and other instant messaging/microblogging services that only allow you a limited number of characters; a long URL can easily take up an entire Twitter post (140 characters max).  Also, sometimes long URLs “wrap” in e-mails, making it difficult for the recipient to re-create your link.
  • How:  Using any of the URL-shorteners is simple; you just go to the site (tinyurl.com is the “granddaddy,” and still very popular) and paste your “long” URL into the window, and click on a button.  I find bit.ly to be superior for this purpose because a) it keeps track of all your links (once you’ve setup an account, which takes maybe 15 seconds), b) most importantly, it tracks how many clicks(!!!) each link gets, as well as when and where they came from, in real time, and c) it seems to keep getting better and better!  (Just one example:  In the short time since I started using it, they’ve added the total number of clicks for each URL to your “main” page (see my example above) as well as “previews” of where the links lead).  At a certain level, I could see a personal bit.ly account serving as a “poor person’s delicio.us,” that is, an easy way to keep track of where you’ve been on the InterWeb, while sharing selected sites (it has a direct interface with Twitter and other 2.0 utilities) with your online buds.
  • Drawbacks:  Not too many (and they may have fixed these by the time you read this) but, it is occasionally (certainly not regularly, like Twitter!) unstable, especially as it has to do with “metrics,” i.e., the numbers, timeline, and demographics of your links.  (It would also be nice to get more systematic metrics, e.g., the TOTAL number of hits all your links got, but that is probably asking a lot for a free service?!?)

Previous tool:  Netvibes

Tool for next time:  drop.io

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