Bitly Gets a Makeover Focused on Bookmarking and Privacy Controls

As part of its continuing evolution from a simple URL shortening service into a website sharing and bookmarking tool, bitly has announced a major overhaul of its service today, including the introduction of bitmarks, which are sharable bookmarks that can also be used Instapaper-style for offline reading and to curate lists of links. According to bitly Head of Product Matthew Rothenberg, the changes are designed to help bitly users do pretty much what they were already doing with the service, but do it better, easier, and with greater control over privacy.

“Bitly’s kind of actually always been a place for people to share and save URLs, and what we’ve done is really unlocked that potential, and taken the interface and optimized it more towards the use cases that we saw people were using already today,” he explained. “Over 80 million, close to 100 million URLs come into bitly every day, and those people are taking URLs and saving them or sharing them via Twitter, Facebook, and via email.”

The service will now make it possible to not only save and share bitmarks, but adjust whether they’re private or publicly viewable, and also group them together into bundles for social collaboration. There’s also a new real-time search engine on the site to help people find what they’re looking for more easily, and a brand new iPhone app, which, combined with a Chrome extension and new browser bookmarklet for quickly saving links, is designed to make bitly as portable as possible as users jump between platforms and devices.

“For this to really, completely become integrated into your daily usage, it would have to be super fast and super easy to find what you were looking for, so we spent a lot of time on things like the search, and also bringing it into the Chrome extension and the iOS app we launched today,” Rothenberg said. Another way to make sure that bitly is as accessible as possible was to make its new services available via an API, so that developers can integrate them right into apps where people are doing their search and discovery. Tapbots, for example, has already integrated the API into its popular iPhone Twitter client Tweetbot, which will allow users to bitmark anything they find of interest in their Twitter stream.

Bitly’s new features and apps today are all consumer-focused and free to use, but Rothenberg said that where it makes sense, features introduced now will eventually likely make their way into Bitly Enterprise, the company’s revenue-generating paid offering aimed at businesses.

For bitly, the time is right to move with more purpose into a new role as a central repository for links and collaborative curation, since its initial role as a link shortener and analytics provider has been eroded somewhat by Twitter’s introduction of its own t.co shortened links and the rise of plenty of social media monitoring and analytics products around the web. As a social bookmarking tool, bitly could stand to gain ground in a space where Delicious has seen a lot of challenges in being bought and re-sold by Yahoo. We’ll see if the company’s refocusing efforts help it appeal to customers already using the service for bookmarking purposes, as well as bring new ones into the fold.

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