DataSift funding shows Twitter’s firehose is worth big bucks

Millions of people see Twitter as simply a fun and trendy pastime. But it’s becoming increasingly apparent that underneath the company’s hood, the data streamed through the microblogging service could be worth some big bucks. And while Twitter is obviously keen to keep a lot of that money to itself, for now it seems content to share at least some of its big data monetization opportunities with a small, select group of startups.

To wit: DataSift, one of only two companies authorized to re-syndicate Twitter’s content using its “firehose,” announced a $6 million venture capital funding round on Monday. In a press release, DataSift said it plans to use the money to beef up its sales and support teams “to service the surge in demand the company is seeing for providing its real-time feed.”

The new funding round was co-led by IA Ventures and GRP Partners. According to GRP Partners’ Mark Suster, Twitter “encouraged” his firm’s investment in DataSift. The press release also quotes Twitter CEO Dick Costolo saying, “We’re delighted to see DataSift receive this funding, which is indicative of the value the venture community sees in the Twitter ecosystem as a whole.”

In Twitter’s early days, the company was notoriously uninterested in generating revenue, preferring instead to focus on expanding its user base. But the company has shifted its focus to the bottom line in recent months, and it’s clear the data streaming through its system is a hugely valuable part of Twitter’s makeup. Last week, Twitter acquired BackType, a startup with stream-processing technology that helps companies track what’s being said about their brands in real time.

However, many of Twitter’s moves toward revenue generation have had negative effects on the ecosystem that has cropped up around the company. For the moment, it seems Twitter is content to leave a lot of its big data processing work to third-party companies such as DataSift and Gnip. Meanwhile, larger companies such as IBM (s IBM) and the well-funded startup AVOS are actively building out their own real-time social data analysis products. As one of just two companies will full permission to re-syndicate Twitter’s purportedly very valuable content, DataSift’s latest funding could be just the tip of the iceberg for the company’s worth.