Way back in mid-2010, Gina Trapani (founder of Lifehacker, host of This Week in Google, all around brilliant awesome coder) announced that she was developing a piece of software then called ThinkTank, the purpose of which was to archive and analyze her twitter stream. Since Twitter doesn’t give you unlimited access to your own tweets, she wanted to ensure that she had control of her own content and could analyze it any way she wished. Now, over a year later that project is called ThinkUp, is being developed by dozens of coders and the help of Expert Labs, and is being used by the White House to analyze it’s social media presence.
ThinkUp just came out of Beta, and the 1.0 is really an amazing piece of software. It installs on your LAMP server (or on Amazon EC2) with about as much effort as a Wordpress install: unzip, upload, enter some database information, and hit go. It’s a bit more work to get the various websites feeding your database. ThinkUp currently has built-in connections for Twitter, Google+, and Facebook, but in order to connect them to your ThinkUp install you have to follow some simple directions that create a link between your install and the API in question. It’s not difficult, and if you can read and push buttons there shouldn’t be any issues.
Once you’ve set it up (maybe 30 minutes, tops), ThinkUp uses a very clever RSS-based trigger for updating...it gives you a secret RSS feed that you can give to your feedreader of choice, and every time the feedreader pings ThinkUp, it triggers an update. ThinkUp then goes out to all of the social sites you’ve associated with it (and it’s perfectly happy with multiple accounts of each kind, etc), queries for changes and updates, and pulls them into your local database. It’s a completely automated way to fully archive your social media content to a server you control, and as far as I’m aware it’s the only software of its type.
If that’s all it did, it would be a phenomenal tool for the archival of you or your library’s social media presence. But it also gives you awesome measurements and statistics about your content, indexes your content to make it searchable, and gives you the ability to embed a given “thread” of conversation in another site at will. It captures the geotags associated with the content and maps it so that you can see the geography of a conversation...potentially very valuable for a Public Library.
Not only does it do all this, but it can also be used as a hosted service. Once you set up your install, you can turn on registration and allow others to use your install to create accounts and archive to your ThinkUp install. For a University, having the ability for all of the different units on campus to have a central repository of all the social media activity of the Campus is really interesting. For a Public Library, the ability to have each branch have it’s own account and the ability to track its own stats, but still maintain a single database of everything for posterity...well, I think that’s pretty powerful stuff. Not to mention the crazy thought that you might actually give your patrons access to it, and let them use the tool while you go about building an database of local history by way of Twitter and Facebook. There would definitely need to be an understanding of what you were doing on the part of the patron, but there’s so much potential that we should discount that as a possible use.
I’m very excited about ThinkUp in libraries...part of most of our missions is to be the memory of our community. This is a tool that can help consolidate and focus the new ways that we’re forming those memories, bringing our disparate social selves into a single database that we control. That’s powerful, and needed. If you want to see some of what it can do, check out my ThinkUp install.