My name is Susan Kistler and I am the Executive Director of the American Evaluation Association. I contribute each Saturday’s post to the aea365 blog.
Hot Tip: Use a URL shortener to monitor information dissemination. A URL shortener takes a long URL (location information for a website such as “http://eval.org/”), and makes it shorter. Just shortening URLs is useful – it makes the unwieldy manageable and decreases the chances of a URL accidentally breaking across lines and becoming unusable when sent via email or posted online. But the power in terms of monitoring comes in that many URL shorteners have built in tracking.
Shortened URLs can be used to track click-throughs when items are posted on websites or blogs, shared via social media, or included in emails. While site statistics, such as those provided by google analytics, can tell you how many people clicked on a link within a given website, or clicked through to a specific page from outside a website, shortened URL tracking allows one to know how many people clicked on a URL regardless of the origin of the URL and as a link is passed from user to user. This is important because it means you can track links to other people’s content, not only your own.
As an example, AEA uses URL shorteners for tracking its headline and resources list. We use Twitter as a content management system (follow aeaweb), so the notices are initially sent out daily via Twitter and most contain a shortened URL for learning more about a headline or resource. The notices also appear in the “News” section of AEA’s LinkedIn Group and on the “Headlines” page on AEA’s website, are shared via a compiled list each Sunday on AEA’s listserv – EVALTALK, and may be subscribed to so as to be received via a weekly email or RSS feed. By using the URL shortener, and tracking use, we gain a better understanding of how the content is being accessed and in what format, and make adjustments accordingly.
How does it work? There are many URL shorteners, but one of the easiest to use is bit.ly. Bit.ly is free and also has the advantage that you can choose the characters for part of the shortened URL.
Here is the quite long URL for a sample course syllabus posted by Gina Weisblat in the AEA eLibrary http://comm.eval.org/EVAL/EVAL/Resources/ViewDocument/Default.aspx?DocumentKey=bd4678d4-4497-47f0-a89c-cbf9ca9987e0. To shorten it, you copy the URL, go to http://bit.ly/, paste the URL into a box, and click “Shorten.”
Bit.ly returns: http://bit.ly/dhi5IZ To make it more user-friendly, once you have shortened a URL, you can also enter characters into the “Custom Name” box and get a more recognizable URL. For instance, I then entered “weisblat’ and bit.ly provided the following shortened URL: http://bit.ly/weisblat
If you click on either of the shortened links above, I can see the click-through statistics increase by 1. I can check on clicks over the past day, week, or month, and will know if the URL is shared via twitter or friendfreed. If you send it to a colleague via email or post it on your own website, bit.ly will still maintain the tracking and click counts.