There has been a lot of development and press coverage in the social aggregation and activity-streaming space over the last month, which peaked last week with the release of Nambu, Seesmic Desktop, Sideline by Yahoo, enhancements from TweetDeck, a redesign of FriendFeed and an iPhone app from TweetStack, that lets you import your TweetDeck columns, to boot. All of these services are trying to solve the growing problem of managing your personal and/or professional activity across various social networks. Twitter is the one constant network across all these applications though, due to its focus on enabling activity streams, growing popularity and ecosystem that turn the river of Twitter’s network noise into useful streams of information. It’s because of the 3rd-party service TweetDeck that I’ve actually started using Twitter on a regular basis over the past month even though I’ve had an account for almost two years (if you’re unfamiliar with TweetDeck, the New York Times had a nice write-up on it last week).
What has struck me in the process of TweetDeck becoming a permanent fixture on my computer is how I use it like a Bloomberg terminal from my years in finance. For the uninitiated, Bloomberg is the de facto system for finance professionals to monitor and analyze real-time financial market data movements, place trades and communicate with other Bloomberg users. Replace ‘finance’ with ‘Twitter’ in the previous sentence and the services sound a lot alike- instead of following stocks it’s users/topics/events and instead of the NASDAQ stock exchange it’s Twitter streams.
With TweetDeck’s recent integration of Facebook Connect, it got me thinking about what a service would look like that brought the best aspects of the Bloomberg terminal to managing a social media experience. Here are my requirements for the ultimate social media terminal:
- Real-time. Information streamed in real-time, or in near real-time is a must. The “more results” notification Twitter search provides is fine, but I don’t want to have to refresh my browser every so often to get the latest streams from Twitter or Facebook (which is supposedly being addressed by Facebook in an upcoming release) or any other platform- I need it delivered as it occurs.
- Multi-platform. Access to multiple networks (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) is also key since I use each one differently (for industry, personal or professional communications respectively) so I need to be able to respond to information en mass or uniquely by network or by user across networks- which can’t be accomplish through just one network (though Facebook is trying!).
- Filters. The more networks you tap into and greater access you have to other user’s information streams, the more important filtering of information becomes. Without filters it becomes unmanageable noise once again.
- Neutral. My social media terminal should be built by a 3rd-party and not by one of the underlying networks it provides access to. This ensures, or at least provides the appearance of, neutrality in how streams are handled and delivered. It also frees the terminal provider to build a client that is unencumbered by any legacy interface or platform functionality, and instead optimized for the stream aggregation experience.
- Actionable. Just aggregating or customizing the presentation of information is not enough- I need to be able to respond and react to this information in real-time leveraging each network’s native functionality (or at least what they expose to 3rd-party services) through a single interface. A dumb terminal is a non-starter.
- Intelligent. While the first 5 requirements are valuable from a time management and user experience perspective in making it easier to see information, understanding that information in a way that helps you make decisions is the value-add requirement in the list- and leveraging analytics is the best way to achieve this. While there are plenty of Twitter tracking and analytic services, there isn’t a single solution that allow you to define reports or alerts on an ad-hoc basis that automates the tracking of sentiment (positive and negative) or velocity (increased and decreasing) around people/topics/events (though Juice Analytics has an interested blog post on this topic). I would imagine individuals and corporations involved in social media would consider this service a must have to be successful and would pay a premium for it.
TweetDeck has made a good start in meeting these requirements for me to date (not too surprising since its founder, Iain Dodsworth came from the finance industry), but still has some work left to do on the multi-platform services side and especially analytics (though I haven’t seen anyone who has addressed this functionality yet). As such I give TweetDeck, which I feel is currently the best of the bunch, a 4 ½ out of 6.
Because TweetDeck leverages APIs that are readily available to other companies in building its service, it does face a growing number of competitors focusing on Twitter as its entry strategy (though according to Twitstat it is currently the most popular 3rd-party Twitter application in terms of usage) as well as on the social aggregation side. You can also be sure that Facebook will use its amazing size and mindshare to try and own this space (especially in light of their failed attempt to acquire Twitter).
Bloomberg was in a similar situation but succeeded in part due to the value added services its users received from using Bloomberg’s proprietary platform (by way of its in-network email service, trading capabilites, etc.). If TweetDeck or anyone else can figure out what its value added service is to its networked users, in addition to meeting the 6 requirements I highlighted above, it has a great chance of building something special.
So what does your social media service look like?