How Much Buzz Do You Generate? Traackr Can Tell

3/13/08Follow @wroush

What makes YouTube and other sites that aggregate user-generated content such a brilliant business proposition? It’s that users upload millions of videos, photos, and other content every week, creating mountains of inventory that the sites can sell to advertisers—and the sites don’t have to pay a rupee for any of it.

But there’s a company getting started in Boston that should shake YouTube and its ilk to their shoes. Traackr wants to give the generators of all this user-generated content a way to monitor how influential, and therefore how valuable, their content is becoming—and, someday, to make some money on it.

“We think there’s a market for influence, but it has not emerged yet because there is no currency for it; no one knows what it’s worth,” explains Traackr’s co-founder, Pierre-Loïc Assayag. “If you happen to be one of the power users on YouTube and Google is making tons of money on you through contextual advertising, or if you’re a book reviewer on Amazon and your review inspires 10,000 people to buy a particular book, you should be getting a cut. At Traackr, we are going to tell you that you are worth x amount compared to other users—and you can use that as a negotiating angle.”

Right now, all you’re likely to get if go knocking on YouTube’s door at the Googleplex in Mountain View and ask for a cut of their profits on your talking-cat video is a good laugh. But Traackr is just getting started.

The public beta version of the site launched two weeks ago, and right now, about all you can do is create a personal account and link it to your existing video-sharing accounts on YouTube, Revver, or Dailymotion; your photo-sharing account at Flickr; your music profile at Last.fm; or your blogs at Myspace or Vox. Once you’ve done that, Traackr goes to those sites and sucks in all the information it can about the way your content is being used. For example, it will tell you how many times each of your photos on Flickr has been viewed.

A Portion of the Traackr DashboardTraackr then distills all this information into several types of scores, two of which—”popularity” and “buzz”—are currently displayed on the site, in percentile form. “Popularity is how many people see your stuff; buzz is how many reactions you get to what you publish,” says Assayag. If your popularity rating is 48 (which is where mine settled after I linked my Traackr account to my Flickr photostream), that means your stuff gets more page views than 48 percent of other Traackr users. Or fewer pages views than 52 percent, depending on whether you’re a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty person.

Assayag says the company is working on rolling out two additional measures—”reach,” which a measure of how often your content is passed on, and “perceived quality,” which is a measure of, well, quality. The four quantities together will give Traackr users a way to measure their own success on the Web—and, Assayag hopes, a feedback mechanism that they can use to increase that success.

“Many users are just not aware of what makes them successful,” he says. “They know they are good at something, but they don’t know why. When you show them ways to measure their popularity or buzz, they learn very fast. Maybe they are not publishing on the right sites. Maybe they are not adding the right tags. If they change something and they see that any of these actions are changing their score, they’ll make a correlation very fast.” For instance, publishing too many photos on Flickr can actually reduce your Traackr score; if you’ve posted 100 really good pictures but they’re lost among 1,500 others, you might well have a lower popularity score than someone who posted just 50 exquisite shots.

Traackr’s own business model, under the current plan, is to sell access to Traackr data to marketers who want to reach out to the most influential Web personalities in various subject areas. But that plan could change. Traackr is actually just one of the projects underway at a Boston-based consulting firm called Ignesis that Assayag founded four years ago to explore better ways of building disruptive technologies into profitable businesses. In new markets, says Assayag, “pretty much anything you’ve learned form past experience is hard to re-use reliably, so all you can do is iterate as fast as you can and as cheaply as you can.”

Traackr is Ignesis’s first-born child, and Assayag is definitely applying the fast-iteration principle—basically launching a new version of the site every six weeks. “In each six-week cycle we take our most critical hypothesis for this business and bang on it to see whether we can prove it or disprove it,” he says. “Based on the answer that we get, the next generation [of the business] will look a little different.”

Previous, non-public versions of Traackr were mainly tests of the underlying technology—that is, whether its programmers could successfully pull data from other media-sharing sites. The hypothesis Assayag is testing right now: whether Traackr might be a useful tool for marketers hoping to reach niche audiences through Web celebrities such as top bloggers, videographers, photographers, and book and music reviewers.

For example, Traackr is working with an auto insurance company that’s trying to reach out to teenagers who are getting their drivers’ licenses for the first time. Market research shows (somewhat frighteningly) that these teens’ opinions about various insurance companies is as important as their parents’ opinions in the final selection. The insurance company “wants to know who they should talk to; who are the pundits, the influencers in that demographic,” says Assayag. The company’s eventual goal is to create an online tool that marketers could use to organize their own direct-influence campaigns, and that would give individual Traackr users the ability to decide whether or not they want to be contacted directly by a corporation or a business.

But selling direct access is just one of many ways that Traackr could create the “influence currency” Assayag speaks about. “Once we start exposing all this data, what appear to be worlds that do not overlap—the world of free content and the corporate world—could actually start to meet someplace,” he says. “Whether it’s through direct advertising, contextual advertising, or direct contact, we don’t really know yet.”

One thing’s for sure: What you see at Traackr today is likely to evolve drastically over the next few six-week cycles. “It’s the foundation of our house,” Assayag says. “We don’t know yet if it’s going to be a three-story or a high-rise.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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