Profile: Nick Halstead, founder, Mediasift
Mediasift's Nick Halstead plans to take on the powerhouses of the web with Tweetmeme to deliver what he thinks consumers want - content through sharing rather than searching.
Nick Halstead, founder of Mediasift
Nick Halstead has a vision of the internet that doesn't sit comfortably with some of its most powerful companies. He sees search engines - Google, Bing and Yahoo! - as cumbersome websites, delivering results, but not necessarily the results people want to see. Halstead and his company Mediasift have made it their mission to change that.
Mediasift's consumer-facing brand is Tweetmeme, which aggregates content on the web by identifying topics that people are tweeting about and aggregating the results on Tweetmeme.com.
If you've seen a Retweet button on a website (there are 400,000 of them), you have seen the means from which Tweetmeme gets its content. When people click on the Retweet button, Tweetmeme identifies the most popular articles and topics, before featuring them on its site.
Halstead got the idea that people desire content by theme rather than by search engine results after a conversation with his parents.
"They were frustrated at not being able to find things easily online," he says. "If you want to read around one specific subject, the internet should really provide an easy way of doing that."
Seeing search engines as ineffective is clearly not a view shared by advertisers. Google consistently posts profits over $2bn a quarter, while Microsoft continues to invest millions in Bing, clear in the knowledge that, if you get search right, it can be extremely profitable.
But Halstead is convinced that sharing and accessing content around themes is the way forward. "The warning signs are there to see," says Halstead. "Google wouldn't be trying to build a social network if it wasn't scared of the data Facebook and Twitter are building.
"For many people, their portal for the world is Facebook or Twitter. They're getting content from people they want to get content from and the need to search is diminishing."
Being known in the industry as the man who invented the big green Retweet button is something Halstead is keen to address.
He has an advantage in that Tweetmeme is different to many online start-ups. What other web entrepreneur can boast about being presented with a Pride of Reading Award by TV personality Chris Tarrant? Indeed, what other digital pioneers are based in Royal Berkshire?
But geography and local prize-winning aren't Tweetmeme's only claims to fame. The start-up is one of a handful of companies to sign a deal with Twitter and now works in partnership with the social media site. "We built a relationship with Twitter early and built a huge amount of traffic for them. We were a reasonably big part in building the tweet ecosystem," he says.
The big plan for Tweetmeme is to challenge more traditional news sites by using the "firehose" of data from Twitter and using its own retweet system. Tweetmeme gets about four million unique users a month and Halstead aims to build it into a new model of breaking news. As well as monitoring how many retweets an article on the web gains, the company uses a formula that takes into account the authority of the person retweeting the content, and ranks it accordingly.
"Social authority is becoming big news," says Halstead. "We, along with firms we partnered with actually invented it. Back in the early days of Tweetmeme, we had the picture of the plane going into the Hudson 10 minutes before any other website because we don't care about the source - we care about how many people are tweeting and how authoritive they are."
Before concentrating on building Tweetmeme, his immediate focus is to concentrate on what could be a more immediately profitable business.
The other thread to his Mediasift holding company is Datasift, a service that provides brands with data from Twitter and other social sites to help them with their marketing. "We decided that, as a small team, we couldn't build a database and make Tweetmeme a leading news source at the same time, so we decided to do it in stages.
"Twitter sees upwards of 100 million tweets a day. For a brand trying to make sense of that is impossible. We're about taking that firehose of data and turning it into something useful."
The core uses of Datasift include campaign analysis and keeping an eye on competitors. When Toyota was forced to recall 1.8 million vehicles in January 2010, Halstead was brought on board to help with the PR battle.
By aggregating comment on the scenario, Halstead helped create Toyota Conversations, which had all of the chatter of Twitter on the site. It built traffic for them and allowed them to be open about it, according to Halstead.
Other companies offer 'tweet-tracking services' but Halstead reckons his business can take off on the back of being officially endorsed by Twitter.
What Tweetmeme and Datasift have in common is that they both harness the social web to offer something useful to consumers. And it's this way of working that makes Halstead tick.
He uses the rise in popularity of question and answer site Quora as a great example of how people all over the world are reinventing business models in the new era of the social web.
"It's an old idea, but it works now because everything is shareable. It's basically an old idea revisited. We're seeing disruption in lots of sectors and what Quora has done with Q&A, we're going to do in other sectors."
Halstead admits that brands and consumers don't all 'get' the social web as yet. "I think we're about a year away until brands formulate a proper plan for social media," he says.
While search engines remain the powerhouses of the web, Halstead is backing the next big thing.
Lives: Reading, UK
Family: Married, one daughter
Football Team: Tottenham Hotspur
Favourite book: Short history of nearly everything
First car: Vauxhall Tigra
This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk
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