Home Twitter Acquires Data Startup BackType; Another Angel Clips Its Wings

Twitter Acquires Data Startup BackType; Another Angel Clips Its Wings

Twitter just announced this morning that it has acquired innovative social media data analytics service BackType. The BackType team will provide data for publishing partners of Twitter about how much traction their Tweets are getting, how they are converting to other key performance indicators and other information.

Some Twitter ecosystem partners will likely call this a betrayal of Twitter’s public calls to build analytics services on its platforms, instead of Twitter clients, after Twitter acquired favored client software providers. Personally, I see this as another failure of the social media economy to sustain providers of more than crude self-interested promotion and broadcast.

Last summer, we wrote about a rumored Twitter analytics program we believed was going to be launched soon. It appears that such a product hasn’t made a big splashy launch but is being offered to some degree behind the scenes.

When companies like Twitter or Google talk about publisher analytics, they don’t mean analytics that will help new media publishers more effectively listen to the world around them that they are reporting on. They mean they are providing tools for old-fashioned one-way broadcasters to optimize their message-pushing to get maximum results in a strange, new pseudo-two-way media world.

BackType used to do a lot of different things. Originally the startup provided the ability to track a person’s comments posted on blogs all over the Web. You could enter a website URL and BackType would give you an RSS feed of all the comments posted around the blogosphere that were signed with that URL in the URL field.

What’s coming to the Twitter back end? See our January 2011 profile, Secrets of BackType’s Data Engineers

It was awesome and a great way to follow what your favorite people were saying in distributed conversations. Here at ReadWriteWeb, we took Robert Scoble’s Twitter List of the Most Influential People in Tech and we scraped all their Twitter bios for homepage URLs. Then we built an OPML file of the RSS feeds from BackType for all the comments those people posted around the internet, with those scraped URLs in the URL field of the comment.

Last spring when the Activity Streams Working Group added a new type of social network update type called Action Streams to its tech spec wiki, group leader Chris Messina posted a comment about it somewhere around the web. I received an SMS notifying me of the comment (as I always do whenever Messina or a handful of other high priority people post a comment on a blog, anywhere) and was able to get a story about the news and its significance up within an hour.

When real-time feed middleware service Superfeedr added support for automatic geolocation text parsing to every feed it delivered content for last Spring, founder Julien Genestoux asked me, “How did you know we had done that?” I later told him late at night at South by Southwest that it was because he had posted a comment on a 2 year old blog post about the Yahoo Placemaker API complaining about the shortage of tech support.

When Mitch Kapor or Bram Cohen posts a comment on someone’s blog, I want to know about it.

I assume this feature will be killed promptly.

Not everyone engages in competitive news blogging and wants every little whisper from a white labeled list of people sent to them in real time, but anyone could benefit from a tool for listening to distributed conversations around the Web. Unfortunately, just as was the case with Google’s recent acquisition of magic listening tool turned publisher analytics provider Postrank, listening to other people as competitive advantage still hasn’t caught on widely enough to be a sustainable business.

The collapse of DIY screen scraping and RSS feed creation tool Dapper into an ad network and then a Yahoo property is another example.

You keep swallowing up the sad shells of formerly great social software startups, though, you big companies and your retrograde, black-hearted, disinterested incumbent customers. You can turn their algorithms and code towards nihilistic optimization for optimization’s sake that yesterday’s media will pay for today – but you can’t take us power users alive.

Some of us will continue loving those startups while they are still on the frontiers: optimistic, lungs full of clean fresh air and interested in what other people have to say – the promise of truly social media.

Maybe someday that model of social software as truly social will become economically sustainable. Or maybe not. In the meantime there will probably remain a fresh supply of beautiful, if short lived, visions for using all these platforms for listening, engaging, amplifying the voices of others and for building value for ourselves through adding value to others. I sure hope so.

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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