URL Shortener Bitly Announces Big Update (Unfortunately, It Sucks, And Everybody Hates It)

Here’s the thing: people don’t like change.

This has always been true. Whenever an adjustment is made to something popular, irrespective of how significant it is, most people, at first, won’t like. A certain percentage will vocalise their dismay. Others will join in. For a while, it will be nasty.

Then, usually, if the changes have been made with good intentions and have actually improved the service, and once folks have actually had a chance to try the new stuff, the moans will dissipate. Sure, you’ll always get a minority of endless whingers, constantly threatening to quit and so on. But most of the time, most of us will, eventually, roll with it.

Again, if the changes actually improve the service. This is the absolute key part.

Yesterday, URL shortener of choice Bitly, which has generated more than 25 billion shortened links since inception, announced a change to their platform. A big change. New Bitly, they’re calling it.

Great. There’s only one small problem: everybody, and I mean everybody*, hates it.

Why? Because it’s taken what was a really useful and fast service into something that is bloated with unnecessary add-ons and buzzword crap, and made a one-click share into something that now takes at least three clicks, and is really, really confusing.

In the good old days, which we’ll refer to from now on as BNB (Before New Bitly), shortening links on Bitly was a breeze. A pleasure. It was fast, responsive and if you used an extension you could crunch down the URL of any webpage in a matter of seconds. If you had a Bitly account, you could then share that shortened link straight to Twitter via Bitly using the title of your choice.

So simple. So effective. So perfect.

Because of this, Bitly quickly became THE link shortener of choice. Popularity builds trust, and study after study showed that Bitly was the most trusted URL shortener of all, which meant that links shortened via Bitly were far more likely to be clicked by your followers.

All these reasons were why I’ve always recommended the use of Bitly to my readers. It is – was – far and away the best URL cruncher. It did the job brilliantly, and essentially guaranteed you more clicks.

Not no more. While those guaranteed clicks on Bitly links are probably still safe (for now), the process of getting to that sharable shortened link just got a lot more awkward. Even using the (formerly fabulous) Chrome extension, it takes a full three clicks to prepare a shortened URL to send to Twitter. And, to be honest, the first few times at least, a lot more.

Here’s how it goes:

  1. Click on the Bitly extension icon
  2. Stare blankly at the screen at the new drop-down box
  3. Bitmarks? Notes? Bundles?
  4. Through trial and error, figure out that ‘notes’ are actually the part where your tweet text is now meant to go
  5. Click on save.
  6. Realise that just saves the shortened link without the text (sorry, note). Go back. Redo if necessary. Click on save and share.
  7. Click on Share to Twitter.
  8. Job done. Observe the growth of your new, full beard in the mirror. Ladies too.

Previously, this was a two-click process. If you remove the part where you clicked on the icon, it was one click. Now, it’s at least three, and all of the new stuff is unnecessary baggage.

Head on over to Bitly.com, and it’s even worse. The homepage wants you to sign up with Twitter and Facebook, and once you’ve logged in (you can still use your existing account) it’s all bitmarks and bundles. Bitmarks, Bitly says, are “better bookmarks”, allowing you to “save, search, and organize all your links from around the web”. These can be grouped into “bundles”. Everything can be made private or public.

“We have big plans for bitly, and we want to build this neighborhood with our community. So get in there, start bitmarking and please tell us what you think!”

In other words, Bitly is trying to evolve into its own sharing network, caught betwixt and between Tweetmeme, Google+ and Reddit. And failing dismally. I’m all for innovation, but nobody wanted or asked for another bookmark service. This extra crap is just that – extra crap, that the majority didn’t ask for and won’t ever use.

Don’t just take my word for it. Head on over to the comments on the Bitly blog post that announced this revamp and you’ll see that, with very few exceptions, these changes are about as popular as an unexpected appearance by Kirstie Alley at an all you can eat buffet.

(* Ignore Max – he obviously works at TinyURL.)

This is all rolling out as we speak. Bitly.com has already been updated, and if you use any of the various buttons and extensions they’ll also update automatically – you have no choice and cannot opt out – anytime now.

There is no escape. Yes, it’s a free service. And yes, they can do what they want. But this is a really, really big mistep. Historically, no product has ever benefitted from becoming more complex to use. No online platform ever took a big leap forward by making you do more things to get to what you want. Haven’t we learned anything from the iPhone?

This “New Bitly” is, frankly, terrible. So much so, in fact, that any savvy competitor surely must be waiting in the wings to step up and give us the bare bones URL shortening service that we want. That we signed up for in the first place. I’m already looking.

My advice in the meantime? Head on over to Bitly and make your voice heard. Hopefully, they’ll see sense and perhaps implement a mini or light version of the service that just shortens link. There’s precedent here – other companies in the social space have rolled back after user outcry. Otherwise, I really do think Bitly might be in trouble. This kind of cockeyed, we’re doing something completely different now thinking almost always leads to a mass exodus.

Until then, maybe they should do the right thing and rename the service Bloatly.