Twitter is buying Bluefin Labs, a cool startup in Cambridge, Mass., and this is signifcant for a couple of reasons. First, it’s important simply because Bluefin is a really cool company, one that I first discovered last summer and wrote about on my personal blog, in a post titled, “Bluefin Labs mixes science and media, and what they’re doing will blow your mind.” It’s social analytics for TV, a way to see what people are saying on Facebook and Twitter about the shows and commercials they’re seeing on TV. It grew out of a project at MIT involving machine intelligence and language acquisition, and its name comes from a sushi place on Mass. Ave. that its founders frequented. As of last summer they had only 45 employees but had already signed up 40 TV networks as customers, as well as big brands like PepsiCo, Mars, Estee Lauder and Kraft. Not bad for a bunch of geeks from MIT.

But what’s even more cool, at least to me, is the notion that Twitter is maybe figuring out how to make money with its network. So far in the age of social everybody has just thought of social feeds as miniature versions of TV, and so they’ve stuck with the same business model – blasting ads at people. Problem is this doesn’t work very well in social, because it feels intrusive. It’s even worse on mobile where the screens are tiny.

But as I pointed out in this piece written just after CES, maybe marketers are looking at these devices and feeds the wrong way. Maybe the best way to use smartphones and social feeds is not as a platform for delivering ads but rather as a way to gather data. Marketers and advertisers are hampered by a bias developed over 60 years; they’ve been trained to see every screen as a tiny new TV. 

Bluefin tips that upside down. Bluefin is all about listening, not broadcasting. It’s about gathering data, studying behavior and then selling that data – to TV programmers, networks, producers, brands, advertisers, political campaigns. 

This, finally, may be the real value of Twitter, and the way to make money with it. If so it would be better for us (no ads interrupting our experience) and better for advertisers too. 

All of us who use Twitter need this thing to make money. It’s in our interest for that to happen. Bluefin may be the key.