Twitter Introduces Bit.ly-Baiting URL Shortener, T.co

Twitter link wrappingSay goodbye to the bit.lys that pervade your Twitter stream, along with all the other custom URL shorteners from your favorite publications. Twitter is rolling out its own way to shorten those unruly Web site addresses.

As early as this summer, any links shared via Twitter will be shortened and wrapped into Twitter's new t.co URL shortener, which will have some smart capabilities when viewed on online:

A really long link such as http://www.amazon.com/Delivering-Happiness-Profits-Passion-Purpose/dp/0446563048 might be wrapped as http://t.co/DRo0trj for display on SMS, but it could be displayed to web or application users as amazon.com/Delivering- or as the whole URL or page title. Ultimately, we want to display links in a way that removes the obscurity of shortened link and lets you know where a link will take you.

There are a couple elements of this update that push t.co into more than a bit.ly competitor that makes me subconsciously want a taco. First, Twitter will be keeping track of all these t.co links, and will use the data they've snagged to make algorithmic "recommendations" to users--basically, the data will be made available through API for targeted advertising or analytics.

The other element is not entirely clear right now, in what's becoming a refrain for new Twitter announcements. Twitter will be counting t.co-wrapped links differently in terms of character count. Because this URL-wrapping will be done automatically, you can actually submit updates of length longer than 140 characters--Twitter will shorten the links and then count characters afterwards. That's how many third-party apps work, but now it's built into Twitter.

This is yet another attempt for Twitter to make first-party what was formerly third-party, just like Promoted Tweets and the new mobile apps for BlackBerry, Android, and iPhone. Twitter is taking control of the ways people use their service. So what does this mean for other URL shorteners, most notably bit.ly? Will bit.ly still work? Will Twitter allow it? Looking at Twitter's blog post on the matter, it looks like t.co will effectively castrate all of these services--they're still permitted but they'll be wrapped in Twitter's own t.co URLs. Viewing them on Twitter.com may then result in the auto-lengthening of the t.co wrapped URL to reveal the bit.ly or j.mp or whatever short URL inside, but what purpose would this serve you as a typical end user? It'll also probably seriously complicate any hope these URL shortener folks have of running analytics on their click-throughs.

Dan Nosowitz, the author of this post, can be followed on Twitter, corresponded with via email, and stalked in San Francisco (no link for that one--you'll have to do the legwork yourself).

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