April 2011 Archives

On an average day, I don't spend much time with Twitter. It's the social media water cooler, where there's always something interesting but rarely anything I can't afford to miss. I know, I should make better use of lists to manage the load, but on a typical day, it just doesn't matter much. To me, it's the unusual days that really prove Twitter's value.

I recently experienced two events—one good, one bad—that show Twitter at its best. The first was Social2011, Radian6's first user conference (#Social2011). The other was April 16, when North Carolina experienced a record-setting tornado outbreak. One twister passed within a few miles of here, so we were paying close attention.

Conferences and Meetups
Back in 2007, I followed the back-channel conversation at the NewComm Forum using Internet Relay Chat (IRC). It was a fairly geeky tool, and it was real-time only, but it was nice to connect with the event I couldn't attend.

Now, of course, the back channel is always Twitter, and it sometimes threatens to overwhelm the front channel (the person on stage). But Twitter and the hashtag make connecting with the people at the conference and those following remotely easier than ever. If you can keep from being completely distracted by it, the back channel is a great source of connections, discussion, and sharing that enhance the event experience.

North carolina tornado map 110419 02The back channel has been running at conferences for a few years now, but what's really changing is the role of Twitter in major emergencies. Lately, the news has been the earthquake and its aftermath in Japan, and the continuing unrest roiling the Middle East. The New York Times had a good article on how NPR's Andy Carvin (@acarvin) is experimenting with real-time news coverage on Twitter, just one of the ways in which the platform is proving useful.

Closer to home—way too much closer, thankyouverymuch—was the tornado that passed within a few miles of my house on April 16. We're fine, but the storms killed 24 people in NC and damaged or destroyed many homes and businesses. Twitter got a workout that day. Here's some of what I saw:

  • Sharing official warnings as they were issued. We had a lot of those.

  • Sharing damage reports. One user drove around Raleigh and tweeted what he found in several areas. Lots of people shared what they could see.

  • Relaying information from broadcast media to people without power in their homes (who were presumably using smart phones for Twitter).

  • Pointing to information. Of course, people tweeted and retweeted links to pictures, videos, news coverage, and other information.

  • Reassuring and checking on friends. "I'm OK" messages went out as the storm passed, and people started asking about friends known to be in the storm's path.

  • Tracking the storms' progress. Tornadoes are over almost as soon as they hit, and you can tell from the tweets where it was over. I ran a trend report on state-specific hashtags (#ncwx, #scwx, #vawx, #mdwx) to see if it showed the storms' advance, but what it showed was a lot of activity in NC—which was hit hardest that day.

  • Media reports. Our local TV stations are on their social media games. They have weather-specific accounts and know how to use the hashtags.

  • (Not much) official communication. I don't remember much official use of Twitter except for National Weather Service updates. It's interesting to see that NWS is experimenting with crowdsourcing storm reports via Twitter. Note to the #smem folks: remember that social media channels are good for both gathering and disseminating information, especially during emergencies that cover large areas.
I won't say that Twitter is only good for events. The water cooler has its purpose, and people share some good stuff there. Persistent hashtags are great for keeping up with topics and communities, and virtual events held entirely in Twitter have some usefulness, too. But when something's going on now—whether it's a conference or what the TV people would call "breaking news"—we see what you can really do with a real-time, many-to-many communications platform.

Many Predictions, Only One Future

Future timeline (cropped)This XKCD cartoon places many predictions on the same timeline (click through for the full version—it's much too long to include here). This is what I mean by only one future: all predictions have to happen (or not) in the same future. If they're mutually inconsistent, then somebody's wrong.

More and more, I find myself applying this filter when I hear or read some breathless prediction of fantastic technological breakthroughs that are supposed to be just ahead. We have a lot of predictions floating around, and I'm pretty sure some of them are wrong.

All Acquisitions, All the Time

Here we go again. Before the discussion about the Radian6 acquisition had time to settle down, there's another acquisition. This time, it's KANA Software and Overtone, in a combination that's all about integrating customer service and analytics. If you're trying to keep up with all the moves, remember that I keep an acquisitions scorecard over at SMA. Before the next domino falls, though, I want to point out some of the insider opinions floating around from the Radian6 deal.

I'm actually interested in more than the latest company hookups, though that's harder to see when everyone's talking about who's going next. It's certainly spiced up my recent conversations with people in the industry. It's definitely driving up blog traffic, too, so keep it up. :-)


Where does it end? When one competitor acquires tanks.

Back-channel emails are a wonderful thing. A couple of CEOs have pointed out how few of the vendors ever featured in Forrester's reports on social media analysis are still independent. So, in the spirit of the filmmaker who's not sure how to end a movie, let's roll the "where are they now?" clip.

The first report in the space was Peter Kim's Forrester Wave: Brand Monitoring (September 2006), which introduced us to seven companies:

  • Biz360
    Acquired by Attensity in 2010.

  • Brandimensions
    Folded into its BrandProtect sibling in early 2009.

  • Cymfony
    Acquired in 2007 by TNS, which was acquired by WPP in 2008. Cymfony is now part of WPP's Kantar Media.

  • Factiva
    Dow Jones bought out Reuters' interest in Factiva in 2007. The Factiva Insight product is now known as Dow Jones Insight.

  • MotiveQuest
    Still doing what they do.

  • Nielsen BuzzMetrics
    Nielsen bought the rest of BuzzMetrics in 2007 and used it as the core of NM Incite, its joint venture with McKinsey, in 2010.

  • Umbria
    Acquired by J.D. Power & Associates in 2008.

Suresh Vittal's January 2009 report, Forrester Wave: Listening Platforms also covered seven companies, two of which two were not in the 2006 report:

  • Radian6
    Acquired by Salesforce.com this week, but you knew that.

  • Visible Technologies
    Still doing what they do.
To complete our set of steak knives Wave reports, we have Zach Hofer-Shall's July 2010 update on Listening Platforms, which added four companies to Forrester's coverage:
  • Alterian
    Entered the market through its 2009 acquisition of Techrigy.

  • Collective Intellect
    Still doing what they do.

  • Converseon
    Still doing what they do.

  • evolve24
    Acquired by Maritz Research in 2010.
So, out of 13 companies ever featured in a Forrester Wave in this space, four are specialist firms that are still independent. In case you were wondering.


For a really entertaining angle, ask the same question, but focus on the people at each company this time. You'll have to do that one on your own, though. I don't want the angry emails. :-)

About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Advisor to buyers, sellers and investors. Writing my next book.
  • Principal, Social Target
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