What is T.co?
URL shorteners are a funny thing. They exist to be used exclusively with Twitter, and sprung up due to the 140 character Tweet limit. Despite their existence being wholly created by the Twitter framework, up until this point, Twitter has left the world of URL shortening to third parties. It’s easy to see why this is strange, especially from a development and UX perspective. With the rollout of T.co, Twitter is now in the game with their own link shortening service.
Before you sharpen the pitchforks and head towards The Old Mill, in many ways T.co will function transparently. According to the devs at Twitter, T.co isn’t about giving you more room to tweet with smaller links: it’s mainly about stopping spam. When T.co shortens a link, it’s compared to a list of known spam and scam domains to keep them from being passed around. If you’ve been using Twitter for a while, then you certainly have fond memories of various link based viruses, phishing attacks and schemes that made their way around the site. Unobtrusively filtering every link that is shared is an effective and thorough security measure. If it works as promised, it should just about eradicate shady doing on the social network. That is no easy feat for any network.
Why T.co is a True Game Changer
Because T.co is essentially part of the Twitter application, it behaves quite differently compared to other popular URL shorteners like Bit.ly and TinyURL. The first thing you’ll notice is that T.co works automatically to shorten links, whether you like it or not. At the moment, links less than 20 characters won’t automatically trigger T.co, but this is set to change in the next few weeks. At that point, all links shared on Twitter will automatically be shortened by T.co. Now pay attention! This is the game changer: Each individual Tweet is now a separate entity unto itself, which can be uniquely identified by its’ code! Why is this a hugely important change? It is now possible to track the impact of individual Tweets!
The first question that business, agency and power Twitter users are asking is, “What about my analytics?” It’s an extremely valid concern. The in-depth analytics supplied by Bit.ly and similar services have become an integral part of any Twitter campaign worth the server space that runs it. The good news is that the Twitter development team claims that you can still use your favorite link shortening service to trick the analytics. Even though your already shortened link will be shortened a second time by T.co, the data collection features should all work properly [ https://support.twitter.com/articles/109623 ]
The bad news is that while T.co apparently tracks all types of data, this information will be kept solely by the in-house teams, and unavailable to the public, at least for the time being. I would find it hard to believe that Twitter won’t make an analytics dashboard available down the line, but for time being you’ll need to rely on whatever tools you are already using. It isn’t a “bug” by the strict definition, but having to shorten a link to gather analytics, and then have T.co shorten it again does seem like a waste of time. Especially because you Don’t have the option to opt out.
Then again, you might not want to opt out, because of that game changer mentioned above: identifying and tracking single Tweets. Since we can now track individual Tweets for the first time, an entire new realm of analysis will open up. Up until now, when you checked the traffic to your website, you certainly saw Twitter. When you look at the referrers supplying traffic to your websites, until the roll out of T.co, you would just see Twitter.com for any traffic directed to your site. Now, the referrers will be shown as specific Tweets. This change makes Twitter many times more useful. It will also allow smart social media types to drill down and create unbelievably effective campaigns.
With the ability to track Tweets individually, incredible new possibilities open up:
-Track referrer traffic without the need for 3rd party software
-Track the power of a Tweet, WITHOUT a link
-Monitor traffic while setting off an action step
-Do A/B comparison testing of specific Tweets to create action or drive traffic
-Actually quantify the specific effectiveness of certain copy to effect website visits
The back end change brought about by T.co will fundamentally change the way strategic users view and engage with the service.
The actual use and operation of T.co couldn’t possibly be simpler for the end user, and Twitter should be commended for that. Simply paste the link into your Tweet, and you’ll see a message reading “link will appear shortened”. That’s it. There’s no buttons to click, no choices to make and no settings to fiddle with. When the links appear shortened in your Tweets, the link will reflect the site of origin to give readers an idea of where the link is sending them. Reading the shortened link users will give users a preview of the destination site. The links won’t read “T.co/YourLinkHere”, they will instead be shown a condensed version of the YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia etc. link, which is convenient for the curious (or paranoid).
In action T.co will take any link of more than 19 characters, and shrink it down to 10 characters. Any links which are less then 19 characters will be increased in size, to 19 characters. This is another oddball gesture. It’s supposed to be a link shortener. Making a 14 character link 19 characters is making it longer! I’m friends with lots of developers, and I know they have what can only be termed a compulsion for order and uniformity. Maybe that explains it? Making the links longer in certain instances illustrates again that T.co is about security, not shrinking links to pack more into your Tweets.
On the surface, T.co doesn’t seem like a huge step forward. Take a look under the hood, and at the code that makes it go and you have something quite different. We predict this will cause major shifts in the way people use Twitter as part of their social media campaigns. Do you see T.co changing the social media landscape in the coming months, or is it just another URL shortener? We’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions, so please drop us a comment.