BuzzLogic was one of the hits of the recent DEMOfall 06 event. As Alex Iskold noted in his original post about the company, its software helps marketers track social influence among blogs and other web sites. We were as intrigued by BuzzLogic as everyone else, so Alex Iskold followed up with Mitch Ratcliffe to find out more. In this interview we discover that Mitch co-founded the company in early 2004 "in order to find automated ways of analyzing influence." So it's been a long journey to launch - read on to find out how it got to this point and what we can expect in the future from BuzzLogic.
R/WW: What is your company about?
We're seeking influencers in conversational markets, giving them more power and marketers better insight into how to deploy their limited resources to deal with the explosion of incredibly specific feedback that companies, organizations and political campaigns are receiving through social media. The tools we're building will be applied to many of the challenges we talk about with social media, such as valuing individual contributions to the conversation, rather than just traffic - and how to interact through a dynamic personal form of communication in order to get the results you aim for.
R/WW: Why did you start this company?
It actually began with a question about how to deal with a blogger, from a friend who is the CEO of a public company. I found myself drawing maps to explain not just the connectedness of a blogger to others in the market, but the way that a blog's influence varies from topic to topic. It was a short step from that to deciding, with Todd Parsons, to start the company in early 2004 - in order to find automated ways of analyzing influence.
Basically, I was doing something with those maps that is analogous to building a spreadsheet with pen and paper. There had to be a technological solution to gathering the data and a methodology for processing it into meaningful insight. We started by drawing maps with a project called MyDensity, which let bloggers display a fairly rudimentary social map around their blogs. It got some traction, but we ran through our crawling/hosting capacity without coming up with a business model to support it. That quickly evolved into a business built on providing much more detailed data to paying customers, since the backend processing was awfully expensive. We've always been focused on actually building a business, which is why we brought on a team and CEO Rob Crumpler, all who worked for next to nothing while we made progress toward the launch.
Now, the company has built an infrastructure that is both more powerful and much more efficient - so we are able to launch our first product, which is a hosted influence monitoring and tracking service that combines our analysis with tools for interacting with influencers, so that marketers can measure the results.
R/WW: What are you major accomplishments thus far?
Well, we launched. The backend is built on a solid index and patent-pending analytics that produce really useful information. The initial feedback from our launch at DEMO was very positive, especially with regard to how we display information and the UI that customers use to manage their interactions in conversational markets. That was particularly satisfying for everyone at BuzzLogic, because it would be easy to ship something that only managed to add noise rather than increasing signal in these incredibly active social networks.
R/WW: What are your major challenges?
Handling the growing amounts of data flying back and forth over blogs, mainstream media and all the others sites people talk about, particularly the false information generated by splogs. Our engineers have developed some really clever approaches to identifying spam, so our index is very clean. But, there's a paradoxical problem, too, in that sometimes what appears to be noise can be orchestrated to have an impact on how people find and come to perceive information, so we have to keep the spam in context to provide customers some warning if splogs begin to reshape sentiment about their product or brand.
Then there is the problem of scaling the index for performance and growing customer demand, the usual challenges for a Web service. The beauty of these challenges is that every time we overcome one, a new market for our data appears.
R/WW: What are you going to build in the next 12 months?
Lots more cool stuff, especially some tools for bloggers to use to understand and act on the market around them - and to tap into the value they are creating. Our marketing and PR tools will be substantially enhanced, drawing in more data from specialized sources that shape conversations, as well.
R/WW: What is the most important thing for a start up to be successful?
Hydration. You need to keep the fluids coming to everyone on the team. After that, it's all about trusting people to do their best and tolerating the cost of people learning, because the sum of those experiences is greater insight into the thing you want to build.
R/WW: What web sites / blogs do you use / read often?
Fred Wilson's A VC
Another World is Here
Confused of Calcutta
Reverse Cowgirl's Blog
Seth Goldstein's Transparent Bundles
New York Times
Tacoma News Tribune
R/WW: Which web 2.0 things are noise and which are signals?
I'm discinclined to celebrate the Ajaxification or Rubification of existing functionality, so the announcement of a drag-and-drop feature in an Ajax office app is just noise - because that feature isn't going to differentiate the product from its desktop predecessors.
Signal is taking something new and turning it into something practical and surprising. I don't think a lot of people agree with the one I was surprised by at DEMO, but Cuts - which lets people create edit paths through media, including DVDs and television shows, and share those edit paths through a community - was a big signal for me, because it shows how people can route around dumb industries by passing instructions for using products created by intransigent industries, from person to person.