TweetMeme, launched in 2009 when other companies mocked Twitter as the place where people posted what they ate for breakfast, said Nick Halstead, the founder and chief technical officer of DataSift, the company that TweetMeme eventually became. The project was an expression of the widespread belief at the time that Twitter would be a format for open communication, rather than a media platform.
But is the company, which also pioneered the re-tweet feature, angry about Twitter’s repositioning of itself as a single website that caters especially to second-screen experiences and marketing?
Far from it.
“We’re certainly not any victim of Twitter in any way. We’ve been a partner since they were less than 20 employees,” Halstead said today in an interview after his presentation at LeWeb London.
While best known for their news site that displayed news based on the content that was most tweeted and re-tweeted, Halstead and his partners saw early on that the data that drove the platform was the real product.
“The data business was always the thing that generated all our revenue, even when we had TweetMeme, we were making more money from the analytics,” he said.
DataSift is now one of just two authorized resellers of Twitter’s firehose data, and as an early entrant in the social monitoring it handles a lot of data, turning unstructured data into query-able databases which it sells to big brands like Dell, social monitoring platforms and social marketing firms.
Halstead says it’s not that DataSift has profited from Twitter’s change of mind about how to handle its API, which has resulted in the closure of dozens of clients and tools. It’s that others failed to hear how Twitter was positioning itself.
“They never had free data,” he said. “They were pretty clear from the beginning. They had an API for building clients, which they’ve locked down because they want people to use their platform, but they never had free data. Back in 2009 at the Chirp conference, they said stop making Twitter clients and everyone ignored them and then got really upset later.”
As an early entrant to the social monitoring business, DataSift enjoys the advantage of having processed a lot of data. Unlike the other authorized reseller of Twitter’s firehose data, Gnip, it can offer real-time access to historical Twitter data as well. And it’s expanded; monitoring Facebook, blogs, forums, Bit.ly link tracking and analysis and so forth, it claims to sift through more than 90 percent of the social data on the Internet.
The textual data that dominates, and used to rule, Twitter, has made Halstead and his team experts in natural language processing, he said. He cited as an example the so-called Twitter Olympics of 2012. DataSift was able to sync the abbreviated and casual mentions of sports, athletes and sponsoring products on Twitter to what was happening on NBC at the time.
Could second-screen analytics put DataSift on a (second) collision course with Twitter?
“We service 500 companies who then serve 500 million customers,” Halstead said.
As the output of social data continues to grow and companies are increasingly aware of its importance, there is demand for political and market research applications and second-screen analytics for European and Asian markets, he said.
There’s that term “second screen” again.