Bit.ly Wants To Make Money With A News Service; But Will Anyone Pay For It?

Bit.ly

URL-shortener bit.ly has quickly become the platform of choice for people who want to share content on Twitter — with its links generating an average of over a billion clicks each month. But as with all popular social-media tools, the inevitable question of how bit.ly plans to support itself (and deliver a high-quality experience to an ever-increasing number of users) is coming up with more frequency. The startup raised $2 million in funding from a group of investors, including O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, in March.

We’ve suggested a premium subscription service, where media companies and other heavy users would pay for advanced analytics, since bit.ly currently lets people track the number of clicks their links get and where their traffic’s coming from for free. In an interview with Wired, bit.ly General Manager Andrew Cohen acknowledged that the startup was thinking about charging for more robust data access, but also about creating a real-time news service that tracked breaking and popular stories.

Many people use bit.ly to share news links (both serious and more pop culture-esque); Cohen told Wired that the plan was to offer a service that would “pinpoint” stories that were gaining traction well before mainstream news outlets were paying attention.

One big question: how will bit.ly get people to pay for its breaking-news wire, when well-established pubs like the NYT and the WSJ — or even buzzier, celeb-driven sites like People.com — are grappling with whether to raise pay walls around their news content?

There’s also the issue of what happens when companies or people try to “game” the trending topics system, or when less-than-desirable or spammy themes start to generate buzz — situations Twitter, with its own real-time trend-tracking, has struggled with. Users paying for a news feed might revolt if the feed got cluttered with spam or links to silly videos.

One thing that is clear is that bit.ly won’t be running ads in its service any time soon; Cohen told Wired that the idea wasn’t even on the table.

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