Note: this was originally posted to the Almighty blog and is cross-posted here.
I had a brief exchange on Twitter this morning with Bit.ly Chief Scientist Hilary Mason in response to a profile piece - published yesterday in Fast Company – highlighting some of the many ways in which Bit.ly’s massive volume of data about our sharing habits could be brought to bear. The piece focuses – as is the nature of Fast Company – on benefits to brands of products like predictive algorithms that spot trending topics and conversations.
While I think there’s a lot of value in products of that nature (and as Erik points out, Bit.ly’s gotta get paid), I don’t think that they’re particularly unique to Bit.ly – Twitter and Facebook are both making moves that will corner pieces of this market for themselves. Frankly, I think that there are more interesting ways for Bit.ly to create products for the marketplace that leverage the unique nature of the data that people are creating with their tool – be it via the bit.ly website, a plugin or a 3rd party application.
Hilary, to her credit, asked what I’d like to see from Bit.ly (also to her credit is her terrific blog). Here, then, are a few thoughts:
1. Publishers are racing to customize the delivery of content to users, while struggling to build the foundations of community that will allow them to generate the kind of affinity and usage data that will inform that level of customization. Facebook affords publishers one approach to that level of customization, but bit.ly data creates an altogether different model for customization in which registered bit.ly users could be served content in which they are not only interested, but also have a propensity to share based upon past behaviors (certainly a valuable interest for all manner of publishers). As significantly, this can be delivered at scale.
2. There are plenty of good reasons to share a link, and any number of people willing to school you on the voodoo of how and when to share information. The fallacy at the core of most of this conventional wisdom is the notion that each of our networks are static (or similar). Bit.ly, though, (with enough data in hand) can tell me when the links I share to my blog posts are most-likely to find traction within my networks, and suggest the best times for sharing my new favorite pop-up Tumblr (as well as the platforms most likely to care). I’d like to see Bit.ly data used to tell me when a link has already made the rounds and I’m late to the party. As a voracious consumer and sharer of information, I’d pay for these kinds of insights – and I suspect that many of my peers would, as well.
3. Finally, I think that there’s a very real extent to which the data that Bit.ly is capturing is, itself, content. As conversations continue to migrate off of publishing platforms leaving message threads to the vehement and the loyal, the links that are being shared on social platforms comprise a valuable (if less-obvious) piece of the stories to which they are related. The trending links to archival Steve Jobs profiles and interviews were as much a part of our collective remembrance of him as his obituaries. The roll out of links to small pieces of content around the #occupyWallStreet movement are integral to understanding of the way that this has become something much larger. The ability to license this information – this data we create – to other content creators and publishers would seem an exciting, real-time opportunity for Bit.ly (and one I would think that they’ve already been pursuing).