A couple months ago, a rumor was spreading around that Thing Labs (makers of the Twitter/Facebook app Brizzly) was being acquired by Foursquare. That wasn’t true, it was simply speculation based on some tweets. Here’s another rumor for you, but one that is very likely true based on what we’re hearing from multiple sources: AOL is buying Thing Labs.
While Things Labs CEO Jason Shellen won’t comment and AOL isn’t saying anything, an all-cash deal is likely being finalized as we speak, we’ve learned. This deal will send Thing Labs’ seven employees to AOL, though it’s not yet clear what will happen to the Brizzly product itself.
Brizzly and its spin-off products (Brizzly for iPhone, Brizzly Picnics, Brizzly Guide), has long been one of the best third-party tools for using Twitter (it first launched at our Real Time Stream CrunchUp in July 2009). For example, it allowed you to do lists of friends before Twitter Lists existed. And Brizzly has long had inline picture and video support. They’ve also since added Facebook support and a number of other features. But still, it has undoubtedly been tricky trying to build a product when Twitter itself keeps rolling out similar features.
This acquisition would mark the second one in the past few weeks by AOL. At the end of August, they bought Rally Up, the makers of mobile applications, to bolster their mobile team. From what we’re hearing, Thing Labs is a bigger acquisition (in the low eight-figure range) to acquire a team which is almost all ex-Googlers. Specifically, Shellen, Chris Wetherell, Dolapo Falola, Ben Darnell, and Grant Shellen are all former Google employees. (The two other team members that aren’t ex-Google are Zachary Taylor and Corinna Psomadakis.) And all of those guys besides Grant Shellen were instrumental in the creation of Google Reader (Jason Shellen was the first PM for the project, Wetherell was the senior engineer, and Darnell built the backend).
Further, Jason Shellen was one of the employees of Pyra Labs, which made Blogger, which Google bought in 2003. That was the company Twitter co-founder and CEO Evan Williams started. Before Brizzly, Wetherell also worked at Twitter for a bit as a consultant and project lead. Meanwhile, Darnell left Google to join FriendFeed back in the day, which was then acquired by Facebook. After a short stint there, he joined the Thing Labs team. In other words, these are high pedigree guys that AOL is getting with ties that run deep.
In June, Automattic (makers of WordPress) bought Thing Labs’ first project, the blogging tool Plinky, for an undisclosed amount. Back in March, the company made an acquisition of its own, buying developer Buzz Andersen’s (now with Square) popular Twitter iPhone app, Birdfeed, which became Brizzly for iPhone.
Thing Labs received a little over $2 million in funding from Polaris Ventures, SoftTech VC, and angels including Michael Jones (now the President of MySpace), Ron Conway, and Greg Yaitanes (best known as a director of the hit Fox TV show House). The company initially sprung out of Polaris’ Dog Patch Labs in San Francisco.