Tr.im to Go Open Source, Community Owned

Updated at 12:45 PM PST with a response from Bit.ly

After weeks of controversy concerning a possible closure of the service, URL shortener Tr.im just announced that it’s open sourcing its code, handing ownership of its domain name over to a community nonprofit organization and making clickthrough data freely available from now on, in real time. Founder Eric Woodward will spin the project out from his core company Nambu, will cover operational costs personally and will work with anyone who wants to help make Tr.im a community-owned alternative to what Woodward says is a data-hoarding monopoly in Bit.ly and Twitter.

Talk about turning lemons into lemonade. The new Tr.im may be the most exciting thing to happen in URL shortening since now market leader Bit.ly itself launched.

Woodward says that the Tr.im code will be cleaned up and available for hacking no later than September 15th, that the code will be licensed under an MIT Open Source license, real time click data will be made available in anonymous aggregate via service provider Gnip and a foundation or nonprofit owner to control the domain name is still being sought.

URL shortening is of course important primarily because of Twitter, where links have to be shortened in order to save characters against the limit of 140 per message. This May Twitter chose to make Bit.ly its default URL shortener, replacing TinyURL. Bit.ly’s marketshare in the URL shortening world became a near instant monopoly.

This is important because these URL shorteners have all kinds of data about which links on Twitter and elsewhere are getting the most click-throughs. Bit.ly is interesting because they’ve been building all kinds of value ads on top of that data – real time analytics, semantic analysis of the linked-to pages and more. Many people believe that Bit.ly could become one of the hottest sources of news discovery on the web, challenging now slow-looking sites like Digg.

Woodward argues that the relationship between Twitter and Bit.ly has made the URL shortening business pointless for everyone else. It was taking up a lot of his time, causing him headaches and he was feeling pressure to dedicate more time to his company’s core product, the Nambu desktop client.

Last month Woodward announced he would be closing Tr.im down and a substantial number of people freaked out. The biggest concern was that all the short links that had been created would now be broken. Some developers complained that they had invested time into building services that utilized Tr.im’s analytics. In response to the uproar, Woodward changed his mind. He said he’d keep the service up for some period of time, he tried to find a seller, but today he’s announcing a permanent change to the nature of the product.

Woodward argues that Bit.ly and Twitter will not expose raw aggregate clickthrough data to just anyone to develop on top of. That’s what the new community-owned Tr.im is going to do. Working with activity data hub provider Gnip, Tr.im will make aggregate anonymized data available in real time, for free. That means that any random developer can build something exciting on top of that stream of data, not just the selected partners of Twitter and Bit.ly.

Woodward says that if the community can take Tr.im to 5 or 10% marketshare, then it should have a good sample of the data Bit.ly is seeing in the rest of the market. Opening that data to developers in real time would then become more valuable than anything Tr.im can offer in aggregate today.

Update: We spoke with Bit.ly’s John Borthwick and this is what he had to say: “I think this is great, it means there will be a future for tr.im and having more services out there is a really good thing. [Tr.im’s Eric Woodward] is short on the facts though and the facts are if you look at the clicks and encodes on bit.ly in a day, 15 million yesterday for example, 60% of them are from Twitter, less than 10% come from twitter.com. It’s about product iteration and adding features. [That’s why Bit.ly is so popular, Borthwick argues.] Eric made a choice and bit.ly has made a different choice.” Borthwick also emphasized that Bit.ly has to invest substantial resources into scaling, something that the Tr.im community will need to take very seriously if it is to grow.

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