Last week, Avinash Kaushik tweeted about a new service that allows you to edit and customize web pages before sharing them. Called ‘BO.LT’, this concept intrigued me, and I promptly signed up to give it a shot. After playing around with it a bit, I’m struggling with how to best use this tool. It has major benefits, but also some downsides, which I will examine after I cover the basics of how the service works.
Signing up for a BO.LT account is done by submitting a request to join and then waiting a short time to be accepted, unless you are given an access key from an existing BO.LT member. Fortunately my account was approved in just a few days, so the wait is not unreasonable, and when you do get invited to join, you are given an access key that can be shared to create two additional accounts for friends.
Once you sign up, you must enter what will be your subdomain, which acts like your own personal URL shortener. Every link you create with BO.LT will begin with your subdomain and then a random string of letters, just like a bit.ly link. EG: http://jonbarrick.bo.lt/3yv6d You can even customize the link, just like with other URL shorteners.
BO.LT takes any URL that you give it and creates an exact duplicate of it that is hosted with one of the best wordpress hosting providers and you can edit using a simple editor interface. You can delete images, text, links and whatever else you want, while maintaining the integrity of formatting and anything else you leave intact on the page.
In addition to deleting unwanted things, you can also replace existing elements with your own. Images can be substituted, text can be edited, embedded links can be altered. It’s an incredibly powerful tool to make any web page the way you want it to be.
There are many advantages to editing a page with BO.LT before sharing it. Not the least of which are that it allows you to clear out the clutter. For example, web pages on news digest sites are typically jammed with ads and links to other stories that hold little to no relevance to the reason you want to share the page. Often times, you are only sharing a tiny portion of the page, and the rest is essentially junk. BO.LT allows you to remove all the extra ‘stuff’ from a page to make it easier for your ‘clickers’ to see only what you intended for them to see, and to relieve them from the otherwise constant stream of banner ads we are exposed to.
However, the downsides of this kind of tool are also plentiful. Web pranksters will quickly discover this to be a dream come true, as they are now able to create 100% visually accurate parody pages of legitimate sites with minimal effort, complete with altered links to not-so-nice content that can easily deceive all but the most vigilant of users.
And while removing banner ads and unwanted content from pages is great for readers who are fed up with the constant barrage of ads flashing in their eyes, advertisers will not be pleased if their revenues plunge. We all know that many of the sites we value as content sources are supported through advertising revenue, and those advertisers will only continue to pay for those spots if they’re generating clicks and views. Otherwise, many sites will need to seek other sources of revenue in order to stay alive.
Of course, it’s still way too early to tell if this service will catch on with the majority of users, but even a handful of the webs most prominent content sharers could have a significant impact by using this tool to strip out unwanted content before distributing it to their massive audiences.
One last major issue with this tool that I can see is the time needed to alter pages before sharing. Instead of simply clicking the ‘tweet’ button, users now need to copy the URL, paste it in to BO.LT, edit the page, save, and then share it. Any page that you choose to edit before sharing immediately takes significantly longer to get distributed. Of course, we’re only talking a matter of a several seconds to a few minutes, but relative to not editing at all, that’s a major difference.
Overall, there’s no doubt that it’s a cool service. Very cool. And I’ll continue to play around with it, especially on pages that, as Avinash would say, ‘totally suck’. After all, if I can make the content I share more pleasing to my readers, isn’t it worth it?