When Facebook released their Social Analytics service last week I was extremely enthusiastic. It’s a huge move by Facebook to open up data about how many users are sharing, commenting on, liking, and clicking URLs on the site. I still am extremely enthusiastic, however today I realized a huge flaw in the system: short URLs.
For those that are more web savvy, there’s no doubt that you’ve heard of services like bit.ly, tinyurl, and others which let you compress long URLs into short ones. On a regular basis, users will send out these short URLs via Facebook, Twitter, and other distribution channels and then track what sort of click through each link gets. It’s a useful service, however with Facebook’s new Social Analytics service there is a fairly significant issue which makes it more challenging to get accurate statistics about any given URL.
Currently Facebook does not make a distinction between short URLs and their longer counterparts. That means when I share one of my blog posts as a bit.ly link, the share button on the actual article (at the top of this article for example) will not include anytime someone shares the shortened URL. Are you confused yet? Let me give you an example. Yesterday afternoon, I shared a link via our Facebook Page about how the latest Hitwise statistics show Facebook dominating in the U.S.
The URL I shared was http://bit.ly/1mm2zr which then redirects to the actual article’s URL https://dev.adweek.com/socialtimes/2009/10/new-hitwise-stats-facebook-dominating-while-twitter-falls/. If you check Facebook’s own statistics, you’ll notice different counts for each URL. For example the link.getStats API method for the bit.ly URL returns “5 shares, 10 likes, 5 comments, and 17 clicks”. However for the long URL, it’s just “5 shares”.
Is this a massive issue? Not necessarily. There are a number of services which provide developers with all short URLs that reference their longer counterparts. However that adds an additional layer of complexity for any lookup. Referencing Facebook’s Social Analytics services as a basic tool for getting a rough estimate on shares is fine, however don’t expect it to provide you with a complete picture. To completely understand what’s being shared on Facebook, you’ll need to do a little extra programming.