Nsyght gave up the ghost this weekend and with it went some very, very cool features. In the end, this little Twitter and Facebook message-parsing service just couldn't do what it set out to do, and so it has closed up shop.I'd like to ask for a moment of silence to mark the passing of a Web application that had eyes bigger than its stomach. An ambitious little startup called
By some standards, Twitter publishes a whole lot of data, about 1,000 messages per second. Nsyght allowed you to do remarkable things with that river of data: search inside Twitter lists, retrieve your own long-lost messages or filter messages from your friends by media type. Below are three of the ways I used Nsyght every day in my news gathering routine. Maybe someday, someone, somewhere will be able to bite off this many Tweets and return these kinds of dream-features to the world.
What Was That Link I Tweeted?
One of the features that Nsyght offered was the ability to retrieve your own tweets from way back, months back in the archive, by keyword search. There are very few other ways to do this. Twitter itself won't let you search your own or other peoples' archives back very far at all because of the database challenges.
Nsyght was my go-to place to do that, and I already miss it. What does it mean that we're all creating so much data, but so much of it becomes inaccessible even to ourselves just weeks after it's published?
Hunting for Photos
I kept Nsyght open in a browser tab every day while I worked and kept it set to filter all my incoming Twitter and Facebook messages by media type. Specifically, I watched a feed of all the photos my contacts were sharing. This helped me unearth some great tech industry news photos that got turned into short, interesting little blog posts.
I sure miss that feature. The hard part isn't filtering for media type, of course, that probably just requires a good white-list of media-sharing domains to watch for links to. The hard part is eating the Tweets without choking, or missing too many of them.
What do the Experts Say?
I've got a news writing workflow that involves pushing this button, pulling that lever, pinging those robots, etc. It's worked out very well to help me learn quickly about the things I write about, without living in the Silicon Valley myself. These systems are a great democratizer of knowledge.
One of my favorite new ones was Nysght's search inside a Twitter list feature. You could start following a brand new Twitter list with your Twitter account, and Nsyght would take just a few minutes to ping the Twitter API again and again and build an archive of hundreds of the back-logged Tweets the people on that list had posted prior to your discovering it. You could then search those Tweets by keyword!
So part of my routine had been to jump over to Tlists or Listorious as soon as I figured out the subject of my next article. I would find an expert-curated list of specialists in any relevant fields and I'd follow those lists on Twitter.
Then I'd go and do other research using other tools (like the telephone, or custom search engines) while Nsyght built an archive of that new list I just started following in the background. After a few minutes, I could jump over to Nsyght and quickly filter through the recent history of that list to see what those topical experts had been saying on Twitter about the subject of my article.
There are a number of services online today that try to make it easy to use Twitter's public replies to ask questions of particular topical experts, but sometimes it works a lot better to be able to filter for keywords in their existing public conversations among themselves.
It was great! But now it's gone.
Nsyght, when it worked, was an incredible tool for harvesting knowledge from my existing community of curated contacts and their publishing streams. Hopefully, someday, someone, somewhere, will build something that can handle this much data and provide a fast, simple interface to fill needs like the above.
Unfortunately, it looks like that's not going to be Nsyght. As founder Geoffrey McCaleb wrote in his goodbye post this weekend, after the site had been down for the past three weeks:
"Ultimately, the site was working in an offline capacity, and still working as good as it was the day we went offline. The problem? It just wasn't good enough. It wasn't stable, but more disturbingly it frequently had 'gaps' so sometimes users would miss posts from their friends - which is really the whole point of the service. As much as I wanted to restore the service, there's no room for 'sorta' good. You either have a really cool service that truly innovates/changes the game, or you go home.