Link-shortening dynamo Bitly is reportedly prepping to launch a viral search engine, and is working on a $20 million round of funding to power that venture. The move is likely a strategic shift in the face of more link-shortening options, but also draws on the impressive real-time data the company picks up from the content users are linking to.
The company may have hinted at the move into the world of search earlier this month. In a blog post, Bitly demonstrated its significant number-crunching capabilities by analyzing the times of day that posts are most likely to go viral on different social sharing sites, compared to the times that those sites are most active.
“It’s meant to be a smoke detector,” Bitly general manager Andrew Cohen told AdAge, of the reputation monitoring service. “You may not hear from it very often, but when you do, it’s important.”
It seems that some Bitly investors have seen data-gathering as the company’s for some time, particularly after Twitter launched its own link-shortening service last year.
“The link shortening has always been a bit of a Trojan Horse,” investor Joshua Stylman told the Verge. “Bitly is really an analytics tool for tracking content across the open, distributed web, and doing it at a massive, real-time scale.”
According to the Verge, the company moved out of an innovation lab this week into a “much larger” office.
If these reports pan out, it won’t be the first time the company has pushed the limits of its established niche. Since Bitly rose to prominence in 2009, when it became the default link shortener on Twitter, it has branched out to support QR codes and customized shortlink domains, such as nyt.ms for the New York Times.
Increasingly diverse options for link shortening are just one challenge faced by the plucky link service. During the growing unrest that eventually toppled Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, there was some concern that a new Libyan government could impose strict limitations on the use of the .ly top-level domain, casting all existing bit.ly shortlinks into jeopardy.