Twitterment, domain grabbing, and grad students who could have been rich!

July 8th, 2008

Here at Ebiquity, we’ve had a number of great grad students. One of them, Akshay Java, hacked out a search engine for twitter posts around early April last year, and named it twitterment. He blogged about it here first. He did it without the benefit of the XMPP updates, by parsing the public timeline. It got talked about in the blogosphere, (including by Scoble), got some press, and there was an article in the MIT Tech review that used his visualization of some of the twitter links. It even got talked about in Wired’s blog, something we found out only yesterday. We were also told that three days after the post in Wired’s blog, someone somewhere registered the domain (I won’t feed them pagerank by linking!), and set up a page that looks very similar to Akshay’s. It has Google Adsense, and of course just passes the query to Google with a site restriction to twitter. So they’re poaching coffee and cookie money from the students in our lab 🙂

So of course we played with Akshay’s hack, hosted it on one of our university boxes for a few months, but didn’t really have the bandwidth or compute (or time) resources to keep up. Startups such as summize appeared later and provided similar functionality. For the last week or two we’ve  been moving the code of twitterment to Amazon’s cloud to restart the service. Of course, today comes the news that twitter might buy summize, quasi confirmed by Om Malik. Lesson to you grad students — if you come up with something clever, file an invention disclosure with your university’s tech transfer folks. And don’t listen to your advisors if they think that there isn’t a paper in what you’ve hacked — there may yet be a few million dollars in it 🙂