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eric t petersonQuick - name the top five minds in web analytics. If you know the space, no doubt Eric T. Peterson made your list. Analyst, author, blogger, speaker, he's a bona fide guru when it comes to extracting meaning from a mountain of data.

Now, Peterson's burning the midnight oil in his quest to build the Twitalyzer, the first really robust analytics tool for Twitter. Its goal? To measure influence in the white-hot social media channel.

Q: Tell us about the birth of Twitalyzer

A: I read a very engaging post somewhere where @loic [Marco Kaiser], the creator of Thwirl, is saying in search in Twitter we need to have a measure of influence. All people were equal and that was frustrating. A great debate followed, and as with Scoble's comment on engagement a few years ago it took off. I asked myself how would we measure influence. I came up with an influence calculation.

Not all people are created equally and some voices are larger than others. Not better, mind you, but larger. The net net is now with Twitter anyone can go in and see how influential they are in Twitter. If anyone follows you, you learn a little more about them. One metric was not going to be enough so I looked at the data and figured we could calculate a signal to noise ratio. Signal is essentially the presence of a hyperlink, a ref to someone else or a hash tag. And "noise" is the absence of those things. "@lieblink is great you should follow her" versus "my dog just threw up."

Generosity is something people really don't like. It's an individual twitter user's propensity to retweet. Calvin Lee at Mayhem Studios called himself the king of the retweeters. When he sees a good idea he retweets. I think that's generous. Some people don't like to retweet. One of the big influencers commented he's going to start to charge people $500 to retweet. That's either woefully generous or an abuse of your audience.

twitalyzerQ: Well, I just retweeted something from someone posting about buying my new book. Was I being generous or self-interested?

A: That's an edge case. It's a little abusive because it's your book and you'll get monetary gain. People have been saying very nice things about the Twitalyzer and I don't retweet them. But if you do, that's generous. So it's gray, as with all good metrics. But what I find is there's a profile of people who you enjoy following and they have a certain generosity. They have a velocity. It's not 100 percent. With Twitalyzer you can look and say who are the people that I enjoy. You can use it as a discovery tool in that regard

When I see someone who writes about me, or there's someone who I follow who I don't know, I twitalyze them and I look at their scores. I look at how much signal they produce, how generous they are.

Q: What exactly are you tracking here, something very objective like the Dow, or human relationships, which is largely what Twitter is based on, after all?

A: When you get started in Twitter you do follow your friends and the people you know and people you're familiar with. What did Twitter add last year, 5 million people? At some point you have to branch out beyond your 50 friends or 150 friends or 500 friends. Find out how likely is it ironically it was not meant to be a personal discovery tool. There are all sorts of wonderful visually appealing tools to do that.

Q: You must be thinking about business applications for Twitalyzer.

A: I saw at the Omniture summit a really great presentation from Frank [Eliason] at Comcast. He's now managing a team of resources. There are conversations happening about your brand, business and products in Twitter. In a perfect world you'd respond to everyone, write back immediately. But at the rate it's growing, it's not possible to imagine a near-term scenario. In that model in a sort of it goes mainstream way, which is more or less happening now, wouldn't it be nice to have an objective measurement tool that says, "Where's the risk? Who's saying something positive about us who has influence?" That adds value. So if you're Frank at Comcast you can look at Twitalyzer and the pro version, which is available in an invitation-only beta right now, there are a suite of tools in development at Twitalyzer today that will provide businesses value. If you're Comcast and spent half a million dollars on people who just respond on Twitter, how do you measure your efficacy and improve their performance? There seemed to be a great opportunity in helping people focused on the benefits of Twitter sooner rather than later.

Q: So will the Twitlyzer ultimately become a commercial tool?

A: That's the $64,000 question. I've been working on Twitalyzer largely between the hours of 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. every night. It's the classic built-it-in-my-garage-with-my-buddies start-up, but I do see commercial opportunity in it. It's not entirely clear people will buy these tools, or even if Twitter isn't building something similar.  All it's costing is sleep. Twenty-five hundred unique Twitter users have run their profiles as of this morning. The only PR is Twitter…well, and CNN yesterday which called it the best Twitter app. Twitalyzer is not for everyone. A lot of Twitter users don't want to measure themselves. But I see it from the perspective of my time in the analytics industry. This buzz has increasing turned to Twitter as a wonderful, transparent, real-time communications channel. Wonderful opportunity. I'm going to work on that.

The Google Analytics homepage allows you to import Twitter traffic into Twitalyzer. Soon there will be an one-click opportunity to do this, and to integrate with campaign functionality. You're not looking at the number of visits generated, but the number of visits times that person's influence. That's the goal for business.

Rebecca Lieb

Published 16 March, 2009 by Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca Lieb oversees Econsultancy's North American operations.

Follow me on Twitter, or connect with me on Facebook.

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