Just before Twitter went down today (yup, it was down again), I noticed something strange. Whenever I clicked on any shortened link in my Twitter stream and look at the address bar of my browser, I saw a fleeting click tracker before it redirected to the final site. It looked something like this: “http://twitter.com/link_click_count . . .” For instance, here is the full URL redirect for one link I managed to capture:
Others noticed this as well. When Twitter came back up, the redirects were gone. Maybe too many people were clicking on them.
Whether this was just a test or a preview of what’s to come, it suggests that Twitter wants to track all the links people click on the site, which is something you’d think it was doing already. The way that Twitter was doing the redirects was a bit clumsy. You actually ended up being redirected twice. First by the original URL shortener like bit.ly or ow.ly, and then by Twitter itself. While it only seemed to be happening on Twitter.com itself, the redirects worked for any short link including bit.ly, Tinyurl, ow.ly, and so on.
Why would Twitter be tracking links all of a sudden? It’s all about the passed links. First of all, those links are a treasure trove of data. By seeing which links get shared and clicked on the most, Twitter can tell where it is sending the most traffic, who is sending the most traffic, the most popular tweets, the most influential users, and more. All of this data would come in handy for Twitter’s planned analytics service it wants to roll out to business customers.
They can do a whole lot more too. First of all, they won’t be relying so much on bit.ly for click data on short links, even though bit.ly remains the default URL shortener on Twitter, and thus the biggest one, for now. With it’s own data, Twitter can move into bit.ly’s backyard and start showing the most popular links and what is being shared right across Twitter. In addition to ternding topics, it coudl also show trending links.
(Flickr photo by Gerlos).