A couple of blogging pioneers are turning their attention to news. They plan to launch a site aggregating all the conversations taking place on social media and highlighting the issues people care about most. And that's just the beginning of their audacious plans.
Recently, Dash and Trapani were among a small team at the not-for-profit Expert Labs, which had a mission to use technology to engage with the government and help policymakers listen to constituents.
Trapani joined Expert Labs a few months after its founding and brought with her a project she'd been working on privately: ThinkUp. She created ThinkUp to solve a personal problem. She had a huge number of Twitter followers (she still does -- 217,357 as I write this), and she needed a way to keep track of the conversations. If she asked a question on Twitter or said something that got people talking, how could she keep track of all the responses?
ThinkUp now does a lot more. It's a free, open-source application that will run on just about any Internet-connected server. It connects with accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ and captures posts, replies, friends, followers, and links, putting them all in a user-controlled database. The archive is important because free Web services have a tendency to disappear. Geocities and Friendster have both vanished into history, taking their users' creative output with them. ThinkUp gives people a social media activity archive that they control.
ThinkUp also provides statistics on social media use. The White House is one of the users, and its activity is public. You can see how many retweets and replies individual posts received, what followers were tracked over time, the number of Facebook likes and comments, and more, displayed in easy-to-digest charts. Watch this video to see what it can do:
Now, Expert Labs is becoming ThinkUp, a for-profit company for the purpose of building ThinkUp into a platform. The first project: Build a news site based on the social media activity ThinkUp tracks. But that's the first step -- the full proposal is to "build an information network that connects to today’s social networks, but isn’t centralized and dependent on a company or investors." The goal is to draw people into the social network through the media site. "Imagine if Digg or Reddit were open, decentralized and powered by a network instead of votes."
It's a great idea -- but the key question is how to attract users. For the short term, how can ThinkUp build a news site to compete with all the places people already get news -- Google News, Twitter, the New York Times, Reddit, Facebook, partisan blogs, and so on? For the longer term, how will ThinkUp attract people from Facebook and other proprietary social networks? Critics raise concerns about privacy on those platforms -- and many of those concerns are legitimate -- but the rapid growth of Facebook and its ilk shows that the public doesn't seem to care that much.
ThinkUp is seeking $1.08 million in funding from the Knight News Challenge, with a total project cost of $2.4 million. To help ThinkUp get the Knight funding, you need to like its post on Tumblr. Go ahead and do it -- I did. Audacious projects deserve our support, even if they might be quixotic. Perhaps especially in those cases -- if you aim for the moon, even if you miss, you'll hit the stars.
What do you think? Can ThinkUp take on news sites and proprietary social media? Let us know on the message board below.
It would be nice if this app was a hosted service.. I don't want to have to run my own webserver to analyze my Tweet followers. And then upgrade every time there's a new feature that's added...
I'm not sure I see the full benefit of Thinkup just yet -- maybe when they add more data mining tools, I'll see what it's useful for. Or perhaps when someone embeds similar functions into HootSuite or Tweetdeck?
@jabailo - Good point! If someone posts something to Facebook -- even if they post with the access set to "Public" -- will they want that post copied to or even linked from other sites elsewhere on the Internet?
I like the idea of giving greater recognition to great assemply of knowledge enbodied in tweets, posts, comments. These are the new literary structures of the web...so in general, I'm thankful for the recognition.
However...I'm also concerned about authorship. I like having the control over posting where I want and for the reasons I do. My content is not just words, but words in relation to a specific place in the web, a specific response.
Is this yet another case of someone wanting to "leverage" me by taking my content and putting it under their umbrella...without due recompense?
My vision is more that of the Intelligent Agent. This is why I like posting to blogs like Internet Evolution that offer a specific forum. I also like DISQUS which lets me own my comments in various other blogs.
I don't think we can continue to let "umbrella entities" gather our wool in one barn and call it theirs. I think the sheep have to start asking for more grass.
If I understand the concept, "news" or other posts will be archived with a method of categorizing the data base for later retrieval. I've for long thought someone need to not only save "everything" on the internet but find a way to retrieve the info in useful ways.
Perhaps, this novel idea is the way to go. An expensive project, but at some time probably a profitable one, noting the White House is using parts of it now. I'm sure there's lots of military and intelligence needs for this kind of thing. Eventually, even the average Joe will find this useful.
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