Is Bit.ly’s Twitter advantage unfair?
The rise of Twitter as a social-media powerhouse and its micro-blogging platform has created a renewed urgency for URL-shortening services.
There are now endless numbers of websites vying to shorten your too-long tweets to conform to the 140-character limit, but as in every competitive industry not everyone can survive and thrive. This week one of the players, Canadian-based Tr.im (owned by Nambu Network), announced it was throwing in the towel.
Now a small business closing up shop is not normally newsworthy, except when they cry foul as the ship is sinking. While on the one hand Nambu president Eric Woodward told Computerworld’s Gregg Keiser that Tr.im was “accepting the realities and moving on,” he also seized the opportunity to take a shot at Twitter for making Bit.ly its default URL shortening service.
“They’re the default, and even if we’re better, it won’t matter, so what’s the point?” said Woodward. “As soon as Bit.ly was made the default, the game was over.”
Tr.im initially announced its demise through a blog post last Sunday, but 48 hours later did an about face to say it had been resurrected and will keep on trimming those URLs “indefinitely, while we continue to consider our options in regards to Tr.im’s future.” (see Tr.im blog post)
Tr.im further stoked the Bit.ly-Twitter relationship debate, by adding that “Bit.ly has a monopoly position that cannot be challenged with reasonable investment or innovation unless Twitter offers choice. This is a basic reality of challenging monopolies. Bit.ly has deep personal connections and agreements with Twitter that we simply cannot compete with. And it is our humble opinion that this type of favoritism will become an issue for all Twitter developers.”
If having Bit.ly as Twitter’s go-to link shortener is unfair, you would think industry-leader TinyURL would join in the debate. After all it was Tiny’s Twitter perch that Bit.ly usurped back in May. While Bit.ly has quickly become tops on Twitter, overall TinyURL still controls more than 70 percent of the market (see Tweetmeme report from March 2009). TinyURL founder Kevin Gilbertson appears unfazed by Tr.im’s attempts to kick up a dust storm around this issue and certainly has no plans to cease operating now that Tiny is no longer Twitter’s best man.
“With Twitter becoming big it does give the company that they partner with an advantage, but there’s still room in the market for other players,” Gilbertson told Reuters, adding that before they were replaced by Bit.ly, TinyURL’s Twitter traffic amounted to just 10 percent of their overall total. “There’s lots of uses for URL shortening other than just Twitter.”
Gilbertson, who launched TinyURL in 2002 long before the rise of social media, said most of his traffic still emanates from people needing to shorten links in emails. He pointed out that unlike TinyURL, Tr.im’s business model seemed to be largely dependent on Twitter, which became untenable when Bit.ly became the default.
“From that perspective they can no longer pursue what they thought they were trying to do, so they’re now switching their direction,” said Gilbertson, who admitted his Twitter traffic has plateaued since May. Overall TinyURL’s average daily pageviews are down more than 4 percent over the last 3 months, according to Alexa Traffic Stats. This is prompting Gilbertson to reach out to other potential partners. “From a business perspective you want to try to get as many partnerships as you can to maintain the market share. Of course we’d like to arrange deals with people to be able to have them use us as the default.”
Gilbertson also cautioned that if you’re going to have an exclusive partnership arrangement, like Bit.ly now has with Twitter, it’s best not to get too enamored with it so that it becomes too big a slice of your traffic. “The problem with having a deal with Twitter where you are the default and you’re heavily depending on them, is what happens when they do switch?”