Twitter Meeting With Data Partners Signals Plans for Gnip Future

As Twitter Enters Next Data Stage, It Must Assuage Concerns About Future Data Access

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It's only been a few months since Twitter acquired data management firm Gnip. The addition of the company appears to have had a positive effect on Twitter's bottom line. However, as Twitter nestles more of its data under its own proprietary wing, the new owner does need to educate clients about what Gnip does, and assuage concerns some of its more sophisticated clients have about the future of their partnerships, and access to the data they're accustomed to getting.

Twitter held a meeting in July in New York City with clients that pay to ingest Twitter data, including its so-called data "firehose." Put simply, it's a giant stream of information reflecting how people use the platform and what they post about each day there. According to people who attended the event, a primary goal was to introduce Twitter's new data team, many of whom had already been working for Gnip. Twitter confirmed the event took place but declined to comment for this story.

"This was really about sort of introducing what [the Gnip acquisition] might mean," said Errol Apostolopoulos, senior VP-product at social analytics firm Crimson Hexagon, who attended the meeting. According to a non-disclosure agreement with Twitter, attendees were unable to share many details on the get-together.

"In general terms, Twitter is trying to let the ecosystem know what the partnership and now inclusion means," said Mr. Apostolopoulos.

Some smaller firms that are heavily reliant on Twitter data to conduct social media analysis for brand clients may have less sway than behemoths like WPP. "We came to the table with specific things we could use," said Nick Nyhan, CEO of WPP's Data Alliance and chief digital officer of its research arm Kantar. Mr. Nyhan didn't attend the meeting but another executive from Data Alliance was there, he said.

One concern is that Twitter eventually could allow access to its data solely through Gnip, rather than via other resellers that currently offer it such as DataSift. Data Alliance plans to "continue to use DataSift and expand on it," he said. "We're also going to tell Twitter what we want to see in the product pipeline and where those additional features are deployable."

Data Alliance helps evangelize best data practices and standards across the sprawling WPP universe of agencies, and therefore has a unique set of needs that many of Twitter's smaller data partners may not. And considering its spending clout, WPP could spur changes at Twitter and Gnip that trickle down to other Twitter partners.

The holding company, for instance, would like Twitter to provide impression-level data showing the number of impressions of a brand message that are shown to a given user, said Mr. Nyhan. The firm would also like to gather data on specific Twitter accounts in batches rather one-by-one as it needs to do now.

Gnip, pronounced Guh-nip, was scooped up by Twitter for an undisclosed sum in April. That buy followed Apple's purchase of Topsy in December. When Apple bought Topsy for more than $200 million, the deal prompted Twitter to remove the company from its short list of authorized data resellers. Currently, Gnip and DataSift are the only approved middlemen, along with NTT Data, which resells Twitter data in Japan, according to Twitter's list of authorized resellers.

Gnip sprouted along with a small crop of services that spotted a market need for filtering, organizing and analyzing social data including Twitter's. The companies, known as API management firms (Application Programming Interface) also helped the social platforms themselves manage relationships with the onslaught of social analytics firms, marketing agencies and application developers eager to build businesses with a social data cornerstone.

Twitter said last week in its Q2 2014 earnings report that its data licensing business -- which it pools together with "other revenue" including what comes in from its MoPub mobile exchange -- grew 90% year-over-year to $35 million, or around 11% of its total $312 million in revenue in Q2.

"This line item includes significant contributions from both our mobile ad exchange and the Gnip data licensing business," said Mike Gupta, Twitter CFO, during its Q2 earnings call with investors.

"We believe Gnip has only begun to scratch the surface," wrote Twitter VP Jana Messerschmidt in a company blog post the day the acquisition was announced. "Together we plan to offer more sophisticated data sets and better data enrichments, so that even more developers and businesses big and small around the world can drive innovation using the unique content that is shared on Twitter."

Twitter's purchase of social-TV analytics firm Bluefin Labs and this year's acquisition of payments firm CardSpring also indicate plans to develop more TV and commerce data products.

The acquisition of Gnip "signaled to me they're going to make more data available but have a little more control over it," said Mr. Nyhan.

Jason Klein, co-CEO and co-founder of social data and analytics firm ListenFirst expects a wave of similar data seizures. "We would not be surprised if this is the beginning of a trend where companies with valuable data begin to take control of their data from a commercial standpoint," he said. His firm has worked with Gnip for a year, and clients including NBCUniversal and Jose Cuervo use Twitter data analyzed by ListenFirst.

"Now that the marketplace is starting to mature and much of the technical and commercial heavy lifting has been done, it's no surprise that the platforms themselves would want to bring the control of their data in-house, either through acquisitions…or homegrown efforts drafting off approaches that have already been successful in the marketplace, which would be slower but potentially less costly," he added.

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