When Don Thorson and Charlie Constantini looked at the social graph – some 1 billlion connected people all sharing information at an incredibly fast pace – they saw a problem, and an opportunity. Data extraction wasn’t playing as big a role in the picture as it could, so the possibility that all those connected users out there could actually be gaining knowledge proportional to the size of the social network wasn’t being realized. How to return more value to end users? Thorson, whose career has spanned the video game, computer, Internet and communications industries and companies including Atari, Apple, Netscape, and Ribbit, says there had to be a way to “unlock what the world thinks about everything with the optimistic view that all of us are smarter than any of us.”
So was Swipp born. The startup – co-founded by CEO Thorson, Chief Swipp officer Constantini, and CTO Ramani “Nara” Narayan (both also Ribbit veterans) – and its new social intelligence platform launched yesterday. Its aim is to extract the wisdom of the crowd in a global, aggregated way with a solid data structure foundation as its starting point. Swipp’s effort to merge the worlds of social tools and knowledge tools is based on organizing data around terms or topics in what Thorson calls a “pure data” approach – not an interpreted or extracted one – allowing for data to be aggregated, displayed, and archived around a specific person, place, or thing.
So, when a consumer “swipps” – enters a topic via the web or a mobile device, adds a comment about it, and scores it so that their rating becomes part of the Swipp Index (its stock index of social intelligence) – he or she gets what Constantini calls a “one-two punch of what the world is saying and the truth.” That is, you get to see what people are saying socially about that exact topic, and the Index, which is the combined social data for each topic that can be sorted by geography, time, gender, and age. For the reference knowledge and the context behind millions of topics, Swipp leverages Freebase and its entity graph of people, places and things.
“The benefit of the Freebase knowledge graph is that it has structure,” says Thorson. “It knows The Great Gatsby is not just a book but also a movie and in fact several movies. It classifies the information, which to a company of our size is a huge advantage. We piggyback off of their structure,” importing the appropriate parts of its properties to use as its topics data anchor.
“The social stream merges with the knowledge stream.” he says. “We can do that because of this data set.”
The company’s co-founders acknowledge there are lots of choices out there for people when it comes to social networks. But, Constantini contends, Swipp offers something extra – “not just a fleeting moment in time, but you are going on the record. You are counted around the world and you get back something every time you put something in.”
Other social networks not originally built upon the underlying concept of structured data can’t offer the immediate feedback on what the world is thinking and saying about the same topic, he says. And their fleeting streams – the reasons for inventions like Twitter hashtags – are still not very stratified and so still very hit or miss.
With Swipp, Thorson says, and its pure data structure, you type in a topic like San Francisco 49ers and the stream around that is always there, and always expanding to help Swipp and its users get smarter. “What everyone thinks of the team in real-time and over time, segmented by age, by a map showing where comments are coming from – it lives forever. When people add stuff like photos, links, or videos to the topic, it just gets bigger and bigger, so it becomes a living data structure around the San Francisco 49ers with rich volumes of crowd- sourced materials.”
The consumer side of Swipp is fun, but there’s also a commercial angle. That starts with widgets, which lets businesses bring the global social conversation to their own properties. “We believe in distributed social. It won’t be locked down behind one application or in one platform,” Thorson says. Companies Swipp has talked to point to having a third party between them and the social world – namely, Facebook. They want to form social ties with their customers, but they’re concerned about building that future business on someone else’s platform, he says.
Swipp’s proposition to them is that it’s an open, agnostic social infrastructure they can leverage to bring the global conversation to their own doorsteps. “We want everyone to have the same data, regardless of who put it up,” he says. “It’s all the same data because it’s globally aggregated.”
For a retailer, for example, the data from that global conversation might wind up publicly showing that an item they’re selling isn’t getting the love, but Thorson says they’re keen on that aspect rather than afraid of it, because it will help them manage their inventory accordingly. In addition to the customer-facing data that widgets can present on their sites, businesses also get a control panel for deeper dives and more granular data, Constantini says.
Next comes an API in Q3 and a developer program for third-party innovation. “Maybe a company doesn’t want the stream or a global view. Maybe they have whole other different types of data, legacy data around users or items that Swipp doesn’t have that they can attach and merge on the data level to build a new level of data that adds value to their users that we can’t add,” he says.
The first app built on the API to give potential developers a taste of its capabilities is the Swipper Bowl app, which launches in two weeks. It’s the first vertical instance of Swipper as a second-screen app, and more vertical apps should come down the pike every couple of months after its debut. Swipper Bowl is the laptop or tablet accompaniment to users’ SuperBowl watching, with pre-loaded info about the 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens teams and players, and commercials too. “You will see the Swipp index — at any moment in time we pulling worldwide data, so you will see what the world thinks about individual players, teams or commercials as well as what’s happening on the SuperBowl,” Constantini says. “And there’s data structure around it so it’s not just like following a Twitter feed #Superbowl.”
The Swipp team says they’ve gone into this with some pretty big startup wins in their past, and they’re hoping for this to be another one. But there are higher aspirations than commercial success, Thorson says. “At this point in our careers we want to create something of lasting value for the Internet.” he says. “In the future everyone will be socially informed. We just need the tools to allow that to happen. Facebook is part of it, Google is part of it, we are part of it.”