Short Changed: Bitly Blows Off Its Installed Base of Millions of Users
May 30, 2012
This is a case study of how not to run a business. Management has violated the fundamental rules of successful business.
Bitly.com, or bit.ly, is a free link-shortening tool. I have used it daily for two years.
It has overtaken tinyurl.com, which blew its lead by not responding to Bit.ly's challenge.
Now Bitly has shot itself in the foot.
In order to appeal to mobile phone users, it has re-structured its site. It has abandoned existing users.
A key law of business success is to keep 20% of your users happy -- the ones who provide 80% of your income. Managers who try to replace this core clientele with untried new buyers are risking complete failure.
Bitly's programmers have ruined their site, which was lean and easy to use for desktop users. It is now a complete mess. We know it's a mess, because the programmers tell us it's just as good as before.
I clicked the X. This notice disappeared. It does not come back when the user comes back to the site. The reference to the knowledge base disappears. The user is now flying blind.
The page now centers on something called bitmarks. Bitmarks are unfamiliar to existing site users. It's a clever word coined by Bitly's programmers.
What is a bitmark? They are glad you asked.
Is that clear? Not if you use a desktop computer.
What is the benefit of a bitmark? Why do I want bundles? What is a bundle? I have no clue.
I want to know how to customize my short links, the way I used to. That was Bitly's #1 advantage over tinyurl. But now I cannot find the simple shortening box that I always used.
There is a FAQ. There was, but when I returned to the site, it was gone. I see no reference to FAQs.
Here is the page:
Incoherent? Yes. That's because a programmer wrote it. Obviously, no one beta-tested it with Ordinary Users.
You are allowed to tell them that this answer is helpful. But what if you think it was unhelpful, as I do? There is no button to click. You don't get to express your view. This is not what I would call a useful survey. But it is one that covers the backsides of the page designers. They can go to senior management and say, "Everything is fine. The users love it!" Why senior management does not bother to beta-test the site is no mystery. Senior management wants good news, too.
The site's designers could have provided a link to an explanatory video, but that would be way too helpful to Ordinary Users. That would answer their question. It's much better that Ordinary Users never figure out how to customize a link. Who cares that this was Bitly's #1 benefit? That's irrelevant, because the new site is mobile-ready.
Is the site incoherent to desktop users? Yes. But so what? Who needs them? Out with the old! In with the new!
They have switched the site to meet the desires of people who know what bitmarks are and bundles are. To the millions of former users, they send a message: "Get lost."
When programmers take over, the rules of marketing are abandoned.
A site revision for a 100% Web-based firm is a classic mark -- call it a bitmark -- of managers who do not know what they are doing. It is an admission for all to see: "Our original business model has failed. We are desperate. Maybe this will work. Maybe it won't. We don't know. We'll try anything."
Bitly's managers have short-circuited. The result is short-changed former clients.
To see the arrogance of the CEO, consider this:
"As Bitly's CEO Peter Stern told me, the company anticipated the negative reaction: "It's the response from the vocal minority who are quick to complain about any change. We put a great deal of thought and effort into making the change as minimal as we could, but we recognize that people don't like change." What we are not seeing, said Stern, is all the users who are now interacting with features that had always been available on the site but were difficult to use.http://techcrunch.com/2012/05/29/bitly-update-user-reaction/
A radical change like this will always upset some people, especially if your service is aimed at mainstream users. Sadly, that's just the way the Internet works these days."
If this guy had a clue as to what he was doing, he would have done it from day one.
He sounds like an expert who is on top of things. He is like a duck swimming across a pond. Everything looks very smooth from on top, but underneath there is frantic paddling.
What Bitly needs now is a sock puppet.
June 5, 2012
Look at Bitly.com's ranking on Alexa.com. It is falling like a stone. You can date it: the introduction of the new home page.