Bitly Brings Link Shortening to the iPhone at Last

Bitly’s fun pufferfish has long been a friend to verbose tweeters who needed to keep it under 140 characters, and if all you use Bitly for is shortening URLs, that’s enough. But there’s another side to Bitly, an even more useful side, that allows online marketers and bloggers to track how many “clicks” their links are getting. It’s pretty easy and fairly important if you make your living on the internet, but there hasn’t been a good way to generate those little links on iOS until now.

Bitly recently relaunched their website, and with it they launched their first iOS app simply named, Bitly. They’ve made Bitly more social by integrating Twitter and Facebook and creating community curated groups of links, or bitmarks. But does the iOS app work as well as the webapp and browser extensions? And will it have the same analytical functionality for those who need that information? Let’s find out together. 

Making Short Work of Links

There are three ways to add URLs to Bitly. The first is to just tap the plus sign and start typing in your URL, but this is probably the least efficient way. The second way is to copy the URL you want to shorten. You can do this in Safari or really any app. Then you open up Bitly, which will auto-detect the copied URL and help you choose what you want to do with it.

Adding a bitmark to Bitly via copy and editing your new bitmark.

Adding a bitmark to Bitly via copy and editing your new bitmark.

You can also save a link to work with later directly from your mobile browser by emailing it to a unique email address generated for you by Bitly, likely to be something hilarious if my own Bitly email is any indication. You’ll get a similar email address for sharing to Facebook and Twitter. The URL’s title goes in the subject of the email, and the URL and any notes you want to make about the URL go in the body. This third way is best when you want to save and shorten several URLs at once but don’t have time to edit and tag them or just want to share something on the fly.

When either manually entering a URL or adding it via copy, you’ll be taken to the edit screen, called “Add a bitmark.” When I tried to add a video, Bitly autogenerated the title “Dailymotion” for my link. As soon as I would delete that title to add my own, more descriptive title, Bitly would autogenerate the same boring, generic title. To get around that, I had to start tapping out my title and then delete Bitly’s, all in all, an annoying process.

Choosing a bitmark from the list and editing an existing bitmark.

Choosing a bitmark from the list and editing an existing bitmark.

You then choose whether the link is public and add a little description. When you’re done, you can copy or share your freshly generated bitmark. Once your link has been out there for a while, you can go back and check its click stats.

Where Does it Fall Short?

“Click stats?” I hear you calling to me from across the internet. Why do I even care about that? Well, when I’m not giving you folks the scoop on the latest apps, I’m internet marketing like nobody’s business, and this is vital stuff if I want to prove to a client they got traffic because of something I did. I’m also a freelance writer and want to know how well my links are doing when I share them on social media.

You can view a bitmark's stats or share it on Twitter and Facebook.

You can view a bitmark's stats or share it on Twitter and Facebook.

This is where the iOS app goes to pot for me and I have to fall back on the webapp. The click stats just aren’t that good. It tells you how many times that bitmark was clicked in total from any Bitly generated link and how many of those were your link. That’s all. I’m used to knowing when my bitmark was clicked, what countries those clicks came from and whether those links were in Twitter, Facebook or an email. None of that info is in this release of the Bitly iOS app. If my shared bitmark did swimmingly on Facebook but didn’t get any traction on Twitter, that’s good information to have so I can tailor how I share my link next time.

Another missed feature is Bundles, curated groups of bitmarks (not unlike Pinboards on Pinterest) that you and your friends can add to and share. This is new to the relaunch of Bitly’s webapp, and while you can add bitmarks to Bundles in the iOS app, you can’t see or interact with the Bundles in a meaningful way.

The Long and the Short of It

Bitly is definitely still working out some kinks with this release. During sign up, the app instructed me to set the default privacy settings for saving and sharing links, but I can’t find that setting anywhere. I’ve actually only just been able to login for the first time, as for days the login would time out or just wouldn’t work. Before that, Bitly had been crashing on load. After three weeks of crashing and login failures, I admit I was managing my expectations.

I’m happy to finally see an official Bitly release for iOS, but I wish they’d held back and given a better effort. The huge technical errors combined with the lack of functionality for the pros really leave me with a bad taste in my mouth. Then again if all you need is a way to shorten the link to that novelty cat bed you saw on ThinkGeek so that you can email, message or tweet it to your mom, this is great app for that. It’s really simple to use and not overburdened with a lot of stuff that’s going to get your way. If you want the analytics though, the iOS app isn’t your best bet.


Summary

Has the basics for link shortening, but it's missing some of the favorites from the webapp.

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