If there's a hard-to-reach person you want to meet, one of the best ways to do so is through their friends. That's true in the offline world and the increasingly social nature of the internet may make discovery of the social circles of key influencers a powerful business practice online.
A new class of tools intended to surface influencers and the people they are influenced by are focusing on a hub of rapid, connected conversation that's wide open for analysis - Twitter. Could analysis of individual behavior on Twitter become a valuable tool for business development and marketing? A growing number of startup companies are making a case that it could.
Last week Twitter announced that it will soon allow users to create lists of friends that they can share with others. It's an attempt to make user discovery easier and it's cute, but it looks pretty rudimentary at a time when some companies are building enterprise-scale software for real-time discovery and analysis of circles of Twitter users, their expertise, influence and sentiment on topics.
On the margins of the developing Twitter-as-business tool ecosystem are startups building light-weight influencer discovery and analysis tools. Two of the most interesting yet have launched in the last 24 hours, in fact.
Shining a Light on Webs of Connection
Still one of the most useful tools in this group, if still largely a proof of concept, is Pete Warden's Mailana. Give Mailana a Twitter username and it will tell you who the top 20 people that user has had reciprocal public conversations with on Twitter - who they are engaging with the most. Want to get into the world of Lewis Shepherd, CTO of Microsoft Institute for Advanced Technology in Governments? (It's his birthday today, by the way.) Then you might consider joining CTOvision.com author Bob Gourley, Purdue University Cyber War Researcher Samuel Liles and Dr. Mark Drapeau in conversation on Twitter. That's who Shepherd communicates with the most there, according to Mailana.
Friendship Discovery As a Service
It may be a sign of market maturation that some companies are now offering APIs for this kind of functionality and others are integrating it into their core products. Yesterday social media aggregator Seesmic integrated into its web application a feature from Twitter recommendation service Mr.Tweet that surfaces what other users or anyone "pays the most attention to" on Twitter. This is really useful - you can discover key people for any influencer you follow with just a few clicks. Did you know that local-blogging guru Lisa Williams is a very close contact of media consultant Amy Gahran? I did because I've been following them both for years - but now you can discover that connection programmatically, with a click.
Performance of the new feature integration is spotty and the user experience leaves a lot to be desired - but it's only been out for 24 hours.
The platform is wide open for analysis and exposing a person's "social graph" is wildly valuable for discovery, context, relationship building and more. There's going to be a whole lot more development in this direction.
Influencer Discovery For Sale
Will people pay for this kind of information? If they are smart they will. Popular Twitter shared link tracking service Tweetmeme released its first paid product this morning and is betting it can monetize influencer discovery.
Tweetmeme Analytics service does a number of things, but the most useful feature may be what it calls "retweet trees." Publishers can surface the chain of retweets that passed their links around and see which Twitter users had the biggest impact on a chain of retweets.The new
Tweetmeme is surfacing other types of data as well and there's potential for that data to be organized, cross referenced and displayed in a wide variety of ways. Tweetmeme is already performing text analysis of the pages being shared on Twitter, so content type could become another axis point to look at the data around.
All of these services are in early days. If people will in fact pay for them, then they will develop all the more. It's a greenfield of possible added value. Finding out who is of interest to people of interest to you is a classic business activity, open social networking like Twitter makes that possible in newly interesting and efficient ways.