Making money off Twitter: The Ellerdale Project offers enterprise-scale search and analysis at 600 tweets per second
by Peter Bijkerk
Twitter’s announcement of an in-house advertising service on Monday night has changed the perceived viability of startups like Scoopler and Collecta that had hooked up to Twitter’s firehose of tweets in hopes of serving ads. To make things worse, serial moneymaker Bill Gross has launched his own startup, TweetUp, which is also a play for the pockets of those looking to do marketing and advertising on Twitter.
But there are still ways to make money off Twitter that don’t involve competing for ad budgets. The most built-out attempt is probably The Ellerdale Project, a San Francisco startup launched in 2008 and funded by several angels including Ron Conway and Roger Sippl. Ellerdale’s plan is to host a real-time Twitter search and analysis site that serves as a marketing machine for selling professional services to enterprise customers, the kind who’ll write big checks on a predictable schedule instead of throwing over one penny at a time.
Ellerdale’s core strength is its Twitter index, which can handle the hundreds — soon to be thousands — of tweets per second that Twitter feeds Ellerdale through its “firehose” API. By processing all tweets instead of a statistically relevant example, Ellerdale can promise customers that they won’t miss a thing.
CEO Jens Christensen told me in a phone interview that Ellerdale’s differentiator is its ability to categorize tweets by topic, rather than by keywords. In theory, it can tell a tweet about Internet Explorer from one about a Ford Explorer from one about Dora the Explorer.
Easier said than done, given the small amount of text and metadata available to work with in the average tweet. Indexing much more text-and-link rich Web pages into categories is a lot easier than processing millions of tiny tweets per minute into specific topics.
Does it work? The company’s demo site, trends.ellerdale.com, maintains live Top 10 lists of topics on Twitter: People, Politics, Music, Film, etc. You can watch the lists jiggle every few seconds as they’re updated onscreen. The lists are populist and the links not wildly different from what you’ll find on Google News. Teen singer Justin Bieber is atop several pages right now. The page for funding seems to be playing it too safe, with only a few posts per day being added.
But Ellerdale’s pitch isn’t aimed at general-interest Web searchers. It’s aimed at brand managers who want to keep a thumb on the pulse of their products. It’s aimed at companies that want to know what’s being said about them by every single person on Twitter. Most important as a business, it’s aimed at customers who’ll pay a fee for reliable, always-on, customized information — the kind Twitter hasn’t proven able to provide. Ellerdale doesn’t get to have a Fail Whale.
Companies: The Ellerdale Project
People: Jens Christensen