OK, I can tell you're not excited about this, but here's what makes the shortened URL business worth knowing about; surprisingly, it doesn't have all that much to do with the fact that a shortened URL takes up less characters, making it possible to tweet one without it taking up all 140 characters in a tweet. No, short URLs, at least in the case of bit.ly, are about tracking the viral distribution of content, and that's pretty compelling for those of us in the content creation business.
The reason bit.ly has become the default URL shortener is because as its site says, it allows registrants to "shorten, share and track your links." (Twitter made it its go-to shortener in May.) Bit.ly will not only shorten any URL you give it, but it will also tell registered users how many people clicked on the bit.ly link you created, and, how many people used a bit.ly shortened link to share that page. Even better, it also lists the tweets in which it was shared, how many people shared it via Facebook and on and on. Suffice to say, if you're in the online media business, you need to know what data bit.ly is collecting on your content.
We can bet that now that Google (which will shorten URLs starting with the characters goo.gl) and Facebook (fb.me) are in the URL shortening business, they don't plan to stop with the simple act of taking 85 characters and turning them into 25. Even richer data than what bit.ly currently provides is sure to be coming down the pike. (Hat tip to TechCrunch. Again.)