Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Sulia Helps Twitter Sort the Tweet From the Chaff

There’s a lot of great stuff on Twitter. And there’s a lot more lousy stuff.

Sorting out the good from the lousy–or at least the OK from the spam–is an important task Twitter hasn’t figured out how to do on its own yet. So it’s getting some help from outsiders: The service is working with “realtime media” startup Sulia to provide curated Twitterstreams to apps and publishers including Flipboard, the Washington Post and Gannett.

Sulia’s pitch is that while Twitter is a free-for-all where anyone can say anything about anything, most people still want to pay attention to a handful of experts. The service says it can find those experts on thousands of topics, using a combination of algorithms and humans, and it assembles them into curated lists.

If you’re already an expert on a particular topic, you may not want to use  Sulia, because you’ve got your own list of sources. But if you’re a general reader who wants a quick snapshot about something you don’t know much about, it can be useful.

You can get a sense of what Sulia is doing by comparing the Sulia “Libya” stream with the results you get if you type “Libya” into Twitter’s basic search tool.

Sulia’s Twitter deal lets it provide custom streams to app-makers and publishers in exchange for a license fee or a share of ad revenue. Sulia hands some of that money back to Twitter. (Disclosure: Sulia is working with WSJ.com, which like this Web site is owned by News Corp.)

“Curation is one of the top five business opportunities for developers on the Twitter Platform, and Sulia is a great example of the innovation we’re seeing in this emerging space,” Twitter platform head Ryan Sarver says via e-mail. “We made this special agreement with Sulia because publishers are eager for tools like this, that bring the best of Twitter content to their sites and apps.”

Any money Sulia generates for Twitter will be helpful for a service that’s still trying to figure out which business model will work.

More important, if Sulia works as advertised, it will make Twitter that much more useful to mainstream users.

And doing that will also make Twitter much more useful for advertisers. One of the big weaknesses with the ad products Twitter has rolled out so far is that they often require users to look at a string of data that’s confusing or worse.

Take a look, for instance, at the Tweetstream associated with “HTC EVO“, Wednesday’s “promoted trend.” There’s a link to an HTC-sponored Tweet at the top, which arguably has some utility for HTC and for users. But this is what the next four items looked like when I checked in last night:

Twitter isn’t talking about using Sulia within the service itself. But if it works for outsiders, it seems like it’s something Twitter would want to use on Twitter.com and on Twitter-owned apps.

And if that’s the case, then Twitter will either end up buying Sulia, or building its own version of the service. It’s worth noting Twitter has already built an internal “reputation score” system that it hasn’t talked about much. But it’s not a leap to imagine it using that tool to help sort streams on its own.

[Image credit: Library of Congress via Flickr]


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