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Can This Start-up Eliminate Social Media Overload?
 

Think of it as Siri for your social life. Using artificial intelligence, Bottlenose reads and interprets messages--so you don't have to.

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Nova Spivack thinks it’s only a matter of time before the sheer volume of information coming at you via social media starts to break you down. 

In fact, the serial entrepreneur and grandson of management guru Peter Drucker, likes to say that a new phobia has surfaced in our hyper-connected world: The fear of following. 

"Social media was designed to make you want to follow people," Spivack says. "But the paradox is that it worked too well. Now our attention span is no match for the deluge of information being sent." So people simply stop following and listening and do whatever they can to try to minimize the noise. 

And that's a big problem: If everyone's social “streams” become too noisy and unwieldy, then what exactly is the point? The very social media tools you embraced as a business to do things like manage your brand, respond to customer complaints, and solicit real-time feedback become more or less useless because there's simply too much information to sift through. “You don’t read anymore,” says Spivack, whose start-up career has mostly focused on the Semantic Web—or smarter ways to organize information on the Web. “No one does that.” 

That is precisely the challenge he's attempting to solve with his latest start-up, Bottlenose. The company has been around in stealth mode since 2010 but launches in private beta Tuesday. 

Bottlenose is a dashboard that brings together all of your social media accounts—Twittter, Facebook, and Yammer to start, with others coming soon—in one unified stream. But that’s only the beginning. The big idea is the technology behind Bottlenose that “reads” all of the messages in your various streams and interprets their importance, so you don’t have to. 

To be clear, Bottlenose—which boasts the tagline “the smartest way to surf the stream”—is not for social media neophytes. For one thing, the tool won’t work all that well if you’re not a frequent social media user because it needs enough data to begin to learn your interests and develop an understanding of what it thinks you’ll deem important. 

There are a number of ways to use Bottlenose to try to tackle the social media overload problem. Once you’re logged in, you can use a feature called Sonar to visually graph all of the trending topics in your networks. Click on a specific topic and you can drill down into a stream of people you care about who are currently discussing that topic. It’s an easy way at a glance to see what’s trending. 

Bottlenose uses a proprietary natural language processing engine to help you filter messages in a pretty sophisticated way. Want to know the funniest things people in your network are writing? Use the humor sort function. Want to know the latest gossip? There’s an algorithm that will surface rumors, scandals, and cheating husbands too. 

You can also set up streams with any number of custom rules and automatic follow-up actions—too many, in fact, to mention them all here. But here’s an example: Bottlenose can filter messages written by people with less than 1,000 followers who mention your company and then automatically respond to them with a thank you note you’ve composed. 

Another possible application: Let’s say your customers typically use Twitter to tell you when they run into bugs on your software. You could set up a stream that filters for messages that mention software problems. In the future, Bottlenose will let you automatically forward those messages to your engineering team. 

The number of different ways you can slice and dice your social media streams will set your head spinning. Eventually, outside developers will be able to build even more applications on top of Bottlenose to help you sift through all of your social media information. It’s impressive—and enough to make you wonder whether you’re not being sucked down another rabbit hole of social media overload.  

Bottlenose will operate on a freemium business model initially. A free account that operates in an open browser will give you the ability to view a few thousand messages at a time. Eventually the company will launch paid pro and enterprise accounts that run in the cloud 24/7 and come with analytics tools. Spivack didn't disclose pricing.

So far, Spivack and his co-founder and CTO Dominiek ter Heide have run the company with less than $1 million in angel funding and a team of nine Amsterdam-based engineers who are steeped in artificial intelligence and the Semantic Web. In Q1 he says Bottlenose will likely close a round of venture funding. Spivack says he’s already received acquisition offers (some speculate from Twitter) but for now he's focused on ramping up and adding more features. “We think this is a billion dollar company,” he says. 

Want to give it a spin? One thousand Inc.com readers can test drive it by going here to register. (Otherwise, you'll need a high Klout score to get an early invite.) Be sure to come back and let me know what you think. 

 

Last updated: Dec 13, 2011

LINDSAY BLAKELY is a senior editor at Inc., based in Los Angeles.
@lindsayblakely




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