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On the Radar: Rally, which mines Twitter to improve your social life

Posted by Scott Kirsner  March 22, 2010 08:00 AM

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While the team from Silicon Valley-based Plancast was down at South by Southwest earlier this month, hustling to generate buzz among the thousands of digerati at the conference, Mark Soper was sequestered in Cambridge, working to get his new service, Rally, ready for launch.

Plancast, if you haven't tried it, is one more social media site that asks you to supply it with information about your life: in the case of Plancast, trips you're planning to take, concerts you're attending, or Celtics games you're going to. The site makes these plans public, and other people can "follow you" to discover interesting stuff to do (or perhaps stalk you in person.) They can sign on to participate in events you're involved with, making them appear more popular. I've been using it, and it's kind of a chore. I already maintain my own private calendar, create free and paid events using Eventbrite sometimes, list things on Upcoming, and occasionally sign on to attend events listed on Facebook. Now Plancast, too?

In contrast, Rally requires much less effort. You grant it access to your Twitter account, and it scans all of your friends' tweets to try to find messages that hint at what they are planning to do: "Can't wait to see Hot Tub Time Machine on Friday night," for instance, or "Looking forward to the MassTLC annual meeting on March 31st." Rally grabs the tweets that seem like they relate to something happening on a day in the future, and places them on a single page. Here's what my pastry-centric friends are looking forward to tomorrow, for instance:

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Without Rally, I never would've known about this particular Starbucks deal. If you click "Add Plan," you can turn any tweet about an event into a more "formal plan," specifying the details. The service makes it easy to send that plan out as a tweet of your own, and have other folks sign on to indicate that they're going to participate. As you formalize plans on the site, you collect points, which Soper says will mean that your plans will be featured more prominently in the future.

You can see what your friends are planning over the next couple days by visiting Rally's site, and the company also sends out a daily e-mail digest of what's happening.

Of course, Rally often grabs tweets that don't really pertain to an event, simply because they mention a day or date: "Really hung-over this morning. Not looking forward to work on Monday," for example. 

Soper says, "Right now, our accuracy is running about 70 percent, but we want to get it into the 90s. I don't think it'll ever be perfect. It's a difficult natural language problem to figure out what's actually an event, as opposed to just someone mentioning a day."

Soper says the Rally concept has been evolving since last year, and that he launched a private beta with about sixty users in January. He has been building the site with a Python developer in India, and hasn't yet raised any outside funding. Eventually, he wants Rally to connect to Facebook, too, to look for future activities that people mention in their Facebook status updates.

The idea for Rally, he says, "came out of my own frustration of being busy all week, and not having time to banter back and forth with friends, and hear what's going on. By the time Friday rolls around, I have no idea what's happening for the weekend."

Interestingly, Soper says he had a chance to meet Plancast founder Mark Hendrickson last year, when Hendrickson was in Boston talking to some prospective investors, including Bijan Sabet at Spark Capital. How'd he find out Hendrickson was coming? Soper used Plancast, and "joined" a plan Hendrickson had published to go out for drinks one night. They had a friendly talk about what they were both working on, but Soper says his hope is that Rally's ease-of-use will appeal to a wider range of people not just the in-the-know digerati who are always happy to give one more social media site a whirl.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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