MOST tweets are inane, but a million may contain valuable information. Fed through clever algorithms, a torrent of microblogs can reveal changes in a nation’s mood. Hence the excitement about a new market: the sale and analysis of real-time social-media data. DataSift, a start-up, will soon launch a marketplace for such information.
Twitter was the first to move because it generates ever more data: the number of tweets per day now exceeds 230m, up more than 100% from the beginning of the year. Twitter would like to turn its popularity into money, but rather than beefing up its own infrastructure, it plans to outsource the task of distributing and selling its data to DataSift and Gnip, another start-up.
Gnip, based in Boulder, Colorado, is more of a wholesale distributor. It charges $33,000 a month for a feed of half of all tweets. Customers can also subscribe to feeds of tweets containing web links or certain keywords. Buyers are mostly social-media monitoring companies, which analyse the data for a fee. Sysomos, a Canadian firm, for example, allows firms to track in real time what people think about certain products.
The streams from Gnip and DataSift can be combined with data from more specialised firms that try to extract meaning from social-media data. Lexalytics, for instance, analyses the sentiment of messages and posts. Klout measures the influence of social-media users (some firms give people with a high Klout score preferential treatment).
Yet growth in this market could be held back—by privacy concerns. Most people think that tweets are only up to 140 characters long. But those who sip from Twitter’s fire hose can get much more information, including a sender’s location, the biography on his profile page and how many people have subscribed to his messages (see blog post on the map of a tweet). Most of this information is freely available on Twitter’s website. But if users realise how their data are used, they may clam up.
This is the stuff that ABM can be thinking of. But pure data simulation is limited in many ways. They need to be combined with qualitative, subtle patterns in culture.