This is a letter I wrote to TinyURL a while back. It was unsolicited and just generally meant to be helpful advice to someone who had an awesome opportunity (TinyURL was the default shortener for Twitter) but didn’t seem to be doing anything about it. I never got a response and decided to share it publically in case anyone else in the space wants to use any of the ideas in it.
As of this writing Twitter has now switched from TinyURL to Bit.ly as its default provider.
Unsolicited advice from strangers can seem weird, disingenuous and outright rude. Please don’t take any of this email that way. As an entrepreneur it bothers me when I see a service I use that can be doing so much more to make it a real business… and you are sitting on an largely untapped diamond. So with that being said, please take this as completely unbiased advice, free and good for whatever you make of it, if anything at all:
I realize you’re a one-man operation and probably never intentionally started TinyUrl to be a full a business. That being said, Twitter is becoming wildly popular overnight – 10s of millions of users huge and that number will get bigger. You’re lucky enough to have landed a front-row seat by being embedded right in their interface. The question is now: how do you monetize it?
TinyURL used to be a fairly vanilla shortening service. It was neat, but utilitarian and rarely was a tinyURL referenced en mass. With the onset of Twitter’s 140 character limit, the same shortened URLs are now being passed around the web a million times over. Your service has gone from convenience to utter necessity.
Here are some basic ideas:
Content generation / Brand growth
- On your homepage show which URLs are currently being passed around the most… a daily tracker of popular content similar to delicious. Expose this data via an API as well.
- This will make your site have destination and statistical value beyond the service value it currently offers. More websites will begin to use your API if they feel it will help their links become popular on your tracker site… Imagine the NYTimes and USAToday automatically generating a TinyURL for every story they put on their website… you can’t pay for that kind of exposure and brand value. [And your adsense targeting will be infinitely more valuable around this kind of information then just your generic site.]
- Place an optional tiny frame header at the top of redirects as a default behavior. No ads, but do let people flag or recommend content within it (and also maintain a link to tinyurl.com). Let them turn it off if they want to (and save their settings as a cookie).
- A very basic site redesign is really needed. It doesn’t need to be fancy. Your site should look more like Google’s homepage – with API information, etc… in a separate link and just a call out to use your url shortening.
- Let users have access to stats on where their links are used.
- Let people generate password protected URLs (works the same way as the current preview screen, but they get a password screen instead of seeing the final URL).
- Offer a smaller url as a secondary option for people using your service on twitter. Obviously, keep the tinyurl.com free to use and something like tu.rl (or something of that nature) available to use. This is actually incredibly important to maintaining market share on twitter and keeping your site valuable. Sites like tr.im, is.gd and soon, su.pr will be getting usage boosts just because of the size of their names.
If you ever are looking to discuss / get advice, etc… I’m happy to help in any way I can from one entrepreneur to another.
In all seriousness, there are a ton of competitors now springing up, but you own 75% of the market. You’ve got a real opportunity to end up one of the web’s million dollar success stories. Best of luck!
PS. I don’t personally do it, but I also think unicycling is pretty damn cool.