In a week when all eyes are on Facebook and the subject of how data about us on social media platforms gets used without us knowing, there’s been some consolidation afoot in the world of media-based big data services. DataSift, the London-based company that pulls data from conversations across social, news and blog platforms, anonymises it, and then parses it for insights for third party organizations, is being acquired by Meltwater, the company originally out of Norway but now based in San Francisco that provides business intelligence services such as media monitoring and AI analytics on internal business communications.
Financial terms are not being disclosed for the deal but it includes technology, employees and DataSift’s customer base. DataSift had raised about $72 million in funding from investors that include Insight Venture Partners, Scale Ventures and Upfront Ventures and the company had never disclosed its valuation. Meltwater is bootstrapped and has never raised outside funding, but it has also been described as a “unicorn” with a billion-dollar valuation — a description that the company would not confirm but also does not contest.
DataSift’s CEO Tim Barker, who is taking on a role at Meltwater leading his team there, said that it’s business as usual for DataSift’s existing customers, while the two will also work on integrating their platforms together. Combined, the customer base includes media companies, brands and educational and other organizations that make use of the data. Disclosed customer names include Viacom, Ogilvy, Air France, Vans, Harvard Business School and Columbia Business School.
The news comes at an interesting time in the world of social media, and more specifically the data that swirls around it. Over the weekend, we saw a huge story break about how the analytics firm Cambridge Analytica was involved in what has amounted to a data scandal: an affiliate working with the firm had used an innocuous-looking research survey to in turn tap into the social graphs and the related data of respondents, by way of Facebook’s API, netting tens of millions of profiles in the process. The fallout is likely to be felt for a long time to come, and may well bring about a new kind of regulation and scrutiny over how personal data is harnessed and used in social networks.
While this is raising a lot of questions already about personal data and social media, DataSift and Meltwater, to be clear, sit at a different section of the data and media continuum. While Meltwater focuses on what’s produced either internally at a business, or by publications and other media companies, DataSift’s currency is the movement of information that’s already being put out onto social networks in public posts, rather than personal details or attributes of users. As Barker describes it, the company has taken an approach that it calls “privacy by design,” in which it works only with anonymised data to reach its insights, and that work is not focused on how to use that data to rebuild profiles or “types” that can be used to match people back up with ads or other marketing.
The idea will be to bring that together with Meltwater’s existing business to enhance it.
“By combining advances in machine learning and the vast amount of publicly available information on the internet, you can today understand and track Porter’s Five Forces,” — a framework for analysing a business’ competitors — “in real time to understand strategic opportunities and threats for your business. Executives that take advantage of this new opportunity create an unfair information advantage over those who don’t,” said Jorn Lyseggen, CEO and founder of Meltwater in a statement.
“DataSift has built a scalable platform that lets developers build data science-driven insights from social firehoses while protecting the privacy of an individual’s data. When combined with the data Meltwater captures and our AI capabilities, developers can disrupt the Business Intelligence space by either building new applications or complementing existing ones with unique signal that can be only derived from external data.”
All the same, it will be interesting to see what the effects are on businesses like these. For one, DataSift currently is built on the cooperation (and by the grace) of social networks — by way of APIs and access to firehoses of data that DataSift and companies like it use to feed their analytics engines. Whether the social media companies decide they would like to try their hands at some of that business themselves, or perhaps get told by regulators that they simply can no longer share information in this way, this leaves companies that are built on that access in a precarious position.
And that’s before you consider the effects of existing legislation like GDPR, which Meltwater says is something the company is built to handle.
“DataSift’s advanced analytics platform is a great compliment to what we have in house, at a time of growing privacy concerns and regulation such as GDPR,” said Aditya Jami, Senior Director of Engineering and Head of AI at Meltwater. “DataSift’s technology will be instrumental… to deliver next generation insights.”
DataSift in its past had a very notable instance of getting cut off from one of those feeds, and feeling the strong after effects: after years of working closely together and being the main users of Twitter’s firehose of Tweets — access that was brokered when DataSift handed over to Twitter the first third-party website “retweet” button to Twitter, created when DataSift was called TweetMeme — Twitter cut off DataSift from its firehose in the wake of a move to beef up its own big-data analytics business.
DataSift eventually regrouped and now works with around 15 partners, including Facebook, LinkedIn and WordPress, but given that its original premise was based around the kind of real-time data that Twitter uniquely provides, it was a big shift for the startup.
Fast forward to today, the combination of Meltwater and DataSift makes some sense when you think about the evolution of media. The rise of social networking has created another playing field for businesses: they now have a new set of platforms where they can pick up chatter about themselves, and it’s become the hot new place to communicate with customers.
Whether Facebook wants to admit it or not, social networking has become the modern-day descendent of the old-school media industry, and this is one aspect of that. While DataSift was built on trying to better harness and parse chatter from the former, Meltwater was built on the back of media monitoring to essentially provide the same services on the latter.