SocialFlow Wants to Make Sense of the Real-time Web

What makes Twitter so special is also what makes it so infuriating. The tweets (or conversations) move so fast that you miss them more often than not. What’s maddening is that there isn’t enough context to the information that’s flowing through the service, or at least not enough to engage with the right content at the right time. These are some of the challenges I have written about in the past.

They’re also precisely the problems that Frank Speiser, co-founder of New York-based startup SocialFlow, is targeting (his co-founder, Michael Perrone has moved on to a new gig, but remains active with SocialFlow). The five-month-old, two-person company, which is backed by New York investment group Betaworks, has developed an analysis tool that is essentially targeted at publishers (or creators) of content and large brands.

The tool looks at your Twitter stream, determines what (or how many) of your followers are online, what they’re talking about and what keywords they’re using during their conversations. Once the system determines that you (the publisher) has something interesting to offer, it tweets out a link that’s contextual to the conversation. The right link at the right time, theoretically speaking, translates to more effective responses and higher clickthroughs. SocialFlow in many ways is a startup built for the new, data-rich, real-time web with the concept of serendipity as its driving principle.

Speiser and Perrone came up with the idea when they failed to find listeners for their podcast on economics and philosophy. This gave them an idea: What if people knew of their podcast just when they were talking about some of the topics their podcast touched upon? That would give them an incentive to download the podcast. Well, that idea didn’t quite pan out. But the problem on Twitter is essentially the same: publishers and big brands need to find ways to embed themselves in relevant conversations, much like relevant ads showing up next to search results.

Speiser argued that so far most of the focus has been on one-to-one matching — finely tuned emails and banner ads, for example. That model doesn’t work on the social web, because the social web is more similar to broadcast media. Instead of flooding the proverbial airwaves with ads, SocialFlow simply matches conversations with brands. For instance, @DimensionFilms has been using the tool to encourage discussion about movies by contributing movie release dates and casting calls.

Like SocialFlow, several other start-ups such as Klout, Tweetup and Twitter itself are trying to figure out ways to mine the real-time web feeds and develop advertising and marketing methodologies that go beyond the concept of contextual advertising. So far, I am impressed with SocialFlow’s approach and have even started beta-testing the product. I will share the results with you in a few weeks.

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