The Web’s Crystal Ball Gets an Upgrade
VeriSign looks up over 50 billion URLs every day and, like Bitly, gets a handle on what people are doing online as a result. In particular, VeriSign’s data could add an awareness of activity outside the social sites where Bitly links are used. Andrew Cohen, Bitly’s general manager, wouldn’t give details on what this would make possible, but says he will explore the possibility of using the data to improve his company’s reputation-monitoring system.
Even without VeriSign’s help, Bitly can already predict when a company’s reputation is about to take a dive. Cohen gives the example of the vehicle-tracking company OnStar, not a Bitly customer, which was caught in a privacy controversy last month. It began when one customer wrote a blog post about reading in OnStar’s tracking policy that the movements of drivers that have canceled the service are still tracked. As the post got passed around on social media, Bitly algorithms registered a growing anger directed at OnStar. “We see the acceleration in clicks,” says Cohen, saying that had OnStar been a customer, Bitly could have warned that serious trouble was ahead. Sure enough, the story was picked up by the mainstream press, led senators to criticize OnStar, and forced the company to change its policy.
Cohen likens Bitly’s service to a smoke detector. “You don’t hear from it very often, but it’s important when you do,” he says. The VeriSign data will likely allow Bitly to better quantify such predictions because it can measure the usual traffic to a site and any deviations from that. “This gives Bitly another handle on the pulse of the Internet,” says Johan Bollen, a computer scientist at Indiana University.