Bitly is best known as a web service for shortening URLs when posting links to social media sites like Twitter. But the service is looking to do more, and its newly released iOS app shows that Bitly could be on its way to challenging well-loved favorites Instapaper and Pocket.
The app makes it possible to shorten URLs by taking links from web pages and other locations and creating smaller “bitmarks” out of them. Doing that also has a second function – it saves the pages into a list of bitmarks in the app, which you can then view later. You can also choose just to save pages without creating bitmarks at all, which is basically the same functionality as apps like Instapaper and Pocket. Those services allow users to save web pages as they’re viewing them to read later; Bitly now offers the same capability in its app, and also supports offline viewing once you sync your list of pages over the Internet.
Saving pages also has another social function. You can create a Bitly profile, allowing others to see what stories you’ve saved and read them as well. Or, if you’d rather, you can save pages privately, so they can’t be picked up from your profile. There’s also the capability of quickly sending saved pages to Twitter, Facebook or email to share them with others who might not have Bitly accounts.
While the dedicated Bitly app seems like a strong competitor, it has some drawbacks that might keep it from attaining the popularity of the beloved Instapaper. That service integrates with various browsers, including Apple’s iOS version of Safari, with the use of “bookmarklets” that allow users to instantly add web pages to their queues of things to read later (the rival Pocket does the same). Bitly wants to compete with those apps, but in fact, it has abandoned that mobile web browser capability in favor of the app, and the old bookmarklets that used to work with the mobile website version of Bitly no longer function.
The result is an extra step for saving pages to your Bitly list – first you need to bring the URL into the Bitly app and shorten it, and then you can save it and share it. It’s a minor additional step, but that slight lack of convenience isn’t going to help Bitly take on apps that have been providing the same function and have built loyal followings. Bitly’s URL-shrinking benefits are handy, but if the app is hoping to supplant Instapaper and Pocket, it might need a little more in its bag of tricks.
That said, if you’re not already a loyalist to one of the other web page-saving apps in the iTunes App Store, Bitly is worth a look. It functions just as well as its competitors and offers a few cool social additives, as well.