Peter Kafka

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Life After Twitter: Sulia Builds Its Own Social Network

Jonathan Glick used to be one of many entrepreneurs trying to build a business based on Twitter. He raised millions of dollars for Sulia, a service that was supposed to filter the service’s dizzying torrents of messages into something coherent. And he struck a commercial deal with Twitter to provide custom streams for apps like Flipboard.

That was a couple years ago. Now, Twitter doesn’t seem interested in working with third-party apps like Flipboard. And it seems content to do its own filtering, using in-house technology.

But you won’t find Glick in the “Twitter betrayed me” chorus. Instead, he’s rebuilt Sulia into a standalone “Subject-Based Social Network” — an aggregation/publishing platform that’s supposed to feature experts in thousands of topics, without spam and trolls.

So far so good: Glick says that last month the overhauled service attracted 4 million users, who visited the site 10 million times. And he has raised another $1.5 million from his existing investors, like FirstMark Capital.

Some Twitter-centric entrepreneurs say they’ve been blindsided by the company’s recent moves. But Glick says that last year Twitter made it quite clear that its future didn’t involve his company.

“They weren’t secretive about the fact that in the long run they were going to want to do all this themselves,” he says. “When we asked them if we were going to end up competing with an internal product, they would say ‘yes.’ I thought it was fundamentally decent of them.”

Hence the pivot. Sulia still works with Twitter, but now it does so just like any other publisher — it pushes out its updates to Twitter (along with other social outlets like Facebook) and hopes the service will funnel readers back to its own site.

Glick’s challenge now is to make Sulia sticky, and to convince people with followings on other sites and services to publish their stuff with him, too. Glick doesn’t pay most of his contributors, but hopes they’ll want to use Sulia because they’ll be big fish. His pitch: “If you publish to this platform, you will be the center of it.”

Glick overhauled Sulia’s design recently, though I still find it hard to figure out exactly how to navigate my way around there. But I do appreciate the site’s mission of sorting waves of content into digestible streams, organized by topics like “Mideast Unrest.”

That seems like something Twitter and Facebook ought to be able to do. But so far neither service has really tried to do it, which suggests to me that it’s awfully difficult.

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock/tarasov)

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus