Swedish Startup Looks to Tame Web's Information Overload

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A Swedish startup is nearly set to launch a Web-based application that monitors millions of blogs, Twitter messages and other media for specific keywords and topics.

The idea of Twingly's Channels application is to let users monitor the vast chatter on social media and networking sites without feeling overloaded, said Martin Källström, Twingly's CEO.

Users define search terms to create their own "channel." Twingly will look for content on sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Google Reader and Digg among others.

Comments or blog posts pertaining to the user-specified subject matter is delivered to the channel. RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds can also be added to the channel, and a user can give other users permission to manually post links into the channel, Källström said.

The application is divided into two viewing panes: one that lists all comments and another that only displays the most popular comments. Screenshots have been posted on Twingly's blog.

A closed beta is scheduled to launch Oct. 1, and the 10-person or so Twingly team is "burning the midnight oil" to ensure the launch, which will coincide with the Future of Web Apps conference that starts on Sept. 30 in London.

About 200 invites will be given out at the conference for people to try the service, with other invites going to a select group.

That may be a nerve-wracking day for Källström. Twingly Channels is employing a relatively newer method for pulling data into a Web browser that is related to Ajax, or asynchronous JavaScript and XML, which allows bits of data to be delivered without refreshing an entire page.

Ajax works by sending a request to a server and receiving information back. But the "comet" implementation used by Twingly asks for information and keeps the connection open with the server, and new information is delivered in near real-time, Källström said.

It's super speedy, but there's a drawback. "It means that all the users who are looking at the channel have a connection open all the time to the server so it's really intense for the server," Källström said.

Twingly is still figuring out how to make money from Channels. One option is to charge companies for creating their own channels. For example, a car maker launching a new model could create a special channel with its own graphics. The comments and information could also be collected by a widget that the car maker places on its Web page, Källström said.

Another possibility is allowing companies to work with publishers to create networks of channels on specific subjects on Web sites and have companies sponsor them. "We believe the channel platform is very, very engaging for the users," Källström said.

Twingly is very keen to how its Channels service could potentially be abused by spammers and others. Users will be allowed to remove content they don't want to see and permanently block content from users they don't like from turning up in their feed.

"It's a fairly known fact if you block a user, he will just create another account," Källström said. "You just have to make the experience of being abusive as demotivating as you can without resorting to blocking users outright if possible."

Channels is not the only product from Twingly. It also offers a search engine for finding spam-free blogs and a trackback service, Twingly Blogstream, for publishers that allows them to display blog posts relevant to their content and giving valued exposure back to the blogger.

Twingly is likely to face competition, since there are a growing number of vendors that are offering ways to track online mentions of topics deemed important by users. For example, earlier this week, Jive Software announced Jive Market Engagement, designed to monitor and analyze user-defined topics and keywords on sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

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