How to Think Up Cool News Hacks

Last Spring I was weeding my yard and thinking “what new fields of data online could I gain programmatic access to, subject to some analysis and then use for strategic advantage?” Blog comments came to mind as an under-utilized set of data: structured, publicly available and created as a result of casual gestures online. BackType came to mind because that’s what they did at the time, search for comments left by a particular person. I thought about a lot of different ways I could analyze or filter feeds of blog comments, cross referenced with other sets of information or delivered through various interfaces. Most of my ideas didn’t come to anything.

That’s when I thought “how about I take a list of high-priority individuals, track their comments around the web and use that as a way to sniff for news?” I used Robert Scoble’s Twitter List of Most Influential People in Tech, but it could have been any list of people with home page URLs published in a public, predictable place. If I was a geotechnology beat specialist, I might have used (heck, maybe I still will) a list of geotech industry specialists.

Source of data, available programmatically, with a structured field with which some data can be filtered out from others based on some criteria, criteria data-set available from another source already. Put all of those circumstances together and you’ve got an opportunity.

That’s what I did, as described in this post on BackType’s acquisition today by Twitter. That feature is probably as good as dead, now.

I just thought I’d share that thought-process here. I think about things like this all the time, but especially when I set aside some time for my brain to think about it. You can too. Publicly available, structured data enables all kinds of strategic possibilities.