Bitly, a New York company that lets users shorten, share, and track URLs, is raising around $20 million in a new round of funding, we have learned from multiple sources. That's twice the amount the company raised in its last round, and shows a mature startup closing in on a working business model. We also hear Bitly is about to launch some new consumer products, including a real-time, viral search engine.
The company began life at the Chelsea-based innovation lab, Betaworks, but moved out this week into its own, much larger office. Bitly is best known as a link shortner, but investor Joshua Stylman says that's not why venture capitalists are interested in funding it. "The link shortening has always been a bit of a Trojan Horse. Bitly is really an analytics tool for tracking content across the open, distributed web, and doing it at a massive, real-time scale."
When Twitter announced its own native URL shortner, many declared Bitly dead. "They survived the Twitter storm and emerged with a service that isn't reliant on any one social network," says Stylman. Bitly's main business to date has been its enterprise dashboard, which allows companies to track their links across the entire web, from Facebook to Twitter to Tumblr and beyond. Companies are using it to optimize their social sharing and monitor their reputation online. It shows publishers how articles are being spread across the Internet and which ones have a good chance to go viral. And it does all this in real-time, often before Google even has a chance to index the item in its page rank.
Now we're hearing the company is preparing to launch some ambitious new consumer products, the first of which will focus around search. It will likely be something close to what Matt Lemay, Bitly's platform manager, showed off at the New York Tech Meetup last year: a viral search engine that lets users see what's trending. So for example, as Lemay demonstrated onstage, a tourist in New York could search to see what pizza joints or new movies are getting a lot of buzz around him in real time. It's not a challenge to Google's throne, but could prove popular as a mobile app.
UPDATE: Headline updated to match the reporting that Bitly is "raising" a new round of funding which has not yet closed.