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NY-based Betaworks launched their Firefly product into public beta today. We initially reviewed Firefly when they presented at the NY Tech Meetup. I’ve embedded the demo video below so you can get familiar with the Firefly service.
Here’s the idea. If you aren’t happy with the commenting service that we offer, or aren’t happy with any of the new crop of comment replacement services, Firefly can slap a layer on top of your page, and allow everyone to chat in real-time using cutsie bubbles without any idea who you are chatting with.
To be effective, everyone who is browsing the page also has to turn on the service. Luckily no plugin is required to use Firefly so they have that going for them. There’s no login or registration required so the messages might start to get a bit "fun". Swearing is allowed by default it seems. Maybe Firefly could be successful if they partner with MySpace or Bebo.
It’s really cute for about 2 minutes on a site that has good traffic. If you load it up and are alone, it’s boring as heck. Either way, once the cutsie factor wears off, it’s lights out. The maximum number of chatters in a Firefly window is 50 at a time. If you are #51, you get a ticket like at the deli counter. When your number is called, you enter the room to pick up your salami and cheese.
Initially SAI’s Peter Kafka called it, "a feature not a service". Today Eric and Dan over at SAI seem to think it’s cooler than Peter did — I’m with Peter on this one. Update: Kafka seems to like the service more today than on the original review. He notes, “We could definitely use this w/some modifications…really great stuff. Look forward to using.” Here’s what Firefly looks like on a site running the service:
Update: Om Malik has also reviewed Firefly and notes that he likes the idea but doesn’t see it as a business. He also says they may charge bloggers for using the service. I’d agree with Om as the information provided by Betaworks seems to indicate that the service is free only during the beta period.
Here is one of the quotes we received from the Betaworks team:
"Joshua Auerbach, firefly GM, said, "Firefly’s ‘wow’ feature is the mouse-tracking. Being able to see other visitors’ mouse cursors is just amazing – you have to see it to believe it."
This morning I headed down to the Apple Soho neighborhood to meet with the team at Betaworks. I wanted to find out more about the URL shortener that’s apparently a tech blogger’s dream. The name of the URL shortener is bit.ly and bloggers including Marshall Kirkpatrick were in love with the tool like nothing else. Before we get into bit.ly, here’s some details on Betaworks.
Betaworks is a NYC company that helps startups move forward. They were quick to say they aren’t a vc or an incubator like Y Combinator is. They have a variety of NYC-based companies they either work with or invest in. The Betaworks company list includes: microblogging service Tumblr, location service Outside.in, conversational search service Summize (recently acquired by Twitter) and casual games site iminlikewithyou.
Alright, now back to bit.ly. Bit.ly is a URL shortener. What that means is that if you want to share a long URL in an email, it can create a nice short one that doesn’t break onto multiple lines, etc. That’s the basic concept for all URL shortener tools. The idea for bit.ly came from another project the Betaworks team was working on. They needed a URL shortener for Twitabit and the current 70+ shorteners didn’t fit the bill.
In my chat with Betaworks executives Andy Weissman and John Borthwick, they called bit.ly the “professional” URL shortener. There’s statistics, an archive, page thumbnails, and a platform and API which is open to all third parties. The real key they say is in the API and the ability to process pages for “entities”. Entities are bits of content on the page that bit.ly can extract and display them to help find other content that matches one of the entities you select.
Currently they use Amazon Simple Database for the database functions but are in the process of moving to MySQL. They also use Amazon’s S3 storage option for the site thumbnails. There have been 40,000 bit.ly URLs created so far with 5,000 added everyday. They are a Mac shop and here’s bit.ly lead developer Nathan Folkman cranking out code:
Betaworks is now an investor in Twitter after the Summize acquisition. I was curious to find out if they planned to push Twitter to move away from TinyURL and instead use bit.ly as their primary URL shortening service. John replied with a “no comment” but noted that they want to earn respect as the best URL shortener first. Here’s my bet… the switch over will take place by the end of 2008.
Lastly we spoke about the bit.ly business plan. While they wouldn’t share any specifics yet, the model is centered around data, data usage and there will also be a set of premium upgrades available for publishers and companies using the bit.ly service.
The bit.ly team is currently working on a sign-in option which will allow vanity URL’s to be changed. They are also working on continuing to improve the API and on datastream access.
Can a URL shortener become a real business? I guess we will see as bit.ly moves forward on their product roadmap.