by Tom Bunzel -- Up until now like many others I have used TinyUrl.com to shorten long URLs for inclusion in social media posts and occasionally in email. This grew out of a habit in writing printed books and articles where long URLs would be cumbersome for readers to type from scratch. (There is no copy and paste in the real world).
But recently a friend introduced me to another service for this purpose, with essentially the same process as TinyUrl, but some added features.
Both programs come with a field into which to paste a long URL, submit it to the site, and come out with a much shorter version that is easier for users to copy, paste, or type out from scratch. Bit.ly has an added feature of letting you enter your own custom URL into a field, and use that as the truncated version.
The main difference between bit.ly and TinyUrl is that you can become a member of bit.ly, with a username and password. This way, your user page in the program keeps track of the various URLs you shortened and posted.
In addition to letting you reuse your posted URLs easily, bit.ly also has quite a few additional bells and whistles. You can immediately see how many times each URL was clicked after it was posted. The program will even graph the results over a period of time for you.
Clicking on Referrers will show you the various sites where the URL was posted, and Location creates another graph where you can see the various countries from which users clicked in.
The program also comes with an additional toolset for developers or more sophisticated users including a Browser Sidebar and Bookmarklets, along with a plug-in for Firefox.
You can also use the Search feature of bit.ly to locate shortened links on various topics and then see their click through and traffic data, so that you are not limited in terms of research only to URLs that you yourself have found, truncated and posted.
Obviously such a set of tools would be helpful for those who are actively using social media tools like Twitter and Facebook to build a following for business purposes, in that they can get a sense of what kinds of posts are getting the most responses, and which sites are getting re-used URLs that they have created.
Using a URL in a tweet, status update or other post in social media is one of the most effective ways to add value in a conversation or thread, but keep in mind that what you really want to do is to not just post the information, but also provide your own insight or perspective on why it is significant.
Bit.ly also partners with several other developers and programs including Tweetdeck and Seesmic Desktop, which serve as Twitter organizational tools for filtering your tweets. (We may cover these in future tips).