AllVoices Adds Twitter Data to its Citizen News Reports

Last Updated Oct 12, 2009 12:10 PM EDT

As anyone who's ever tried to build a company from the ground up can attest, you have to keep tinkering with your business model if you're going to have a shot at success. It's not enough to simply have a great idea, a good url, a strong team and a solid work ethic.

You've got to remain nimble on the strategy and tactics you employ as a business leader if your venture is to remain competitive in a rapidly evolving landscape. You've got to sort out the good options from the less-promising ones.

And even though this all sounds good in theory, in practice it's extremely difficult to execute, because there are so many distractions swirling around the typical startup, from funding rounds, to redesigns, to hiring, to managing the inevitable buzz once you start to grow.

In this context, one of the fast-moving media startups I've been watching closely this year is San Francisco-based AllVoices.com, with its slogan, "The first open media site where anyone can report from anywhere."

AllVoices founder Amra Tareen and marketing lead Aki Hashmi tell me that traffic to their viral-based citizen journalist site continues to grow rapidly, and that, according to their internal data, it now stands at 3.2* million unique monthly visitors -- up ~146 percent* from 1.3 million in February.

But Tareen and Hashmi say they know that strong growth is not enough; they've got to innovate constantly if they are to grow AllVoices into the kind of global news service they envision. This week, accordingly, they are implementing a new feature, and as soon as next week, a new twist to their business model, which up until now has been based firmly in advertising revenue.

So, today, we'll look at the feature: The company has begun to integrate event-specific and geo-coded Twitter data into its citizen-submitted news reports. The company has developed an algorithm that allows it to vet citizen contributions, including Tweets, along a reliability index.

"We feel AllVoices has broken ground here by pulling the news gems from Twitter's massive live stream and integrating that specific, relevant content into the reports contributed to our citizen media hub," said CTO Dr. Sanjay Sood, in a press statement. "Twitter alone as a source for news doesn't have the ability to tell a full story. AllVoices delivers the full story for a report plus a deeper understanding of the conversations going on around that event."

The resulting Twitter News Bureau helps create the kind of robust "event-like" atmosphere around any particular news story that AllVoices seeks to provide, as well as additional context from mainstream news sites, and other credible sources.

Another AllVoices engineering exec, Erik Sundelof, explained to me recently how the company's unique credibility ranking algorithms work. "First, we evaluate the reputation of the poster to see whether (s)he has supplied credible, popular content before. Second, we search and supply online news stories, blogs, and citizen journalism to provide context for this particular submission. Third, we rate the community interactivity things like views, ratings, comments, or added content."

All of which sounds like the kind of innovation that the VC Michael Moritz, of Sequoia, was referring to in a different context when he told Claire Cain Miller of The New York Times: "Perpetual movement is the essence of survival and prosperity online. If online media and entertainment companies don't improve every day, they will just wind up as the newfangled version of Reader's Digest -- bankrupt."

Well, nobody ever said this was going to be easy, but change is good, innovation is fun. And in the case of AllVoices, the timing may be right: One of its main competitors, citizen-journalist site NowPublic, was recently acquired by the Examiner.com.

An an additional relevant industry move recently was MSNBC's acquisition of the hyper-local EveryBlock.com.

Coming soon: A New Twist to the Business Model at AllVoices.

Related Bnet links:
The Examiner.com-NowPublic Hookup: Part Two
AllVoices to Adapt Twitter's Method to Gather Global News
Amra Tareen's AllVoices: Bottom-Up Media
Tareen's inspiration for All Voices came partly after the devastating earthquake in her native Pakistan in 2005. As a volunteer with Relief International, she witnessed first-hand the resilience of the poor women, widows and orphans she met when they were offered sources of micro-credit to rebuild new lives. "This inspired me to start a company that would let people no matter where they were to write about what they knew about an event, upload photos, videos, and write their stories and views and share with the rest of the world..."
(*) Note: This post has been updated to reflect AllVoices' current traffic figures. The original version used the figure 2.2 million.
  • David Weir

    David Weir is a veteran journalist who has worked at Rolling Stone, California, Mother Jones, Business 2.0, SunDance, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, MyWire, 7x7, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, which he cofounded in 1977. He’s also been a content executive at KQED, Wired Digital, Salon.com, and Excite@Home. David has published hundreds of articles and three books,including "Raising Hell: How the Center for Investigative Reporting Gets Its Story," and has been teaching journalism for more than 20 years at U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and Stanford.

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