How Dataminr Harnesses The Speed Of Social Media In Getting Real-Time Breaking News

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On January 15, 2009, a plane flying from New York to Seattle crash-landed in the Hudson River. Within moments, people were lighting up their social media feeds with images and reactions of the event in real time.

The “Sully” flight became one of the seminal events in the history of social media. The landing marked one of the first times that a major national news event unfolded on sites like Twitter and Facebook before anywhere else.

This realization was not lost on a small group of people that saw a business opportunity. Encouraged by the possibilities of social media, they created Dataminr, a service that creates real-time breaking news alerts from public social media activity, and notifies people around the world instantly. This includes everyone from Wall Street money managers to emergency responders.

Benzinga caught up with Dataminr’s Chief Strategy Officer Peter Bailey to discuss how it makes the world of social media less overwhelming for the people whose livelihoods depend on fast information.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Benzinga: At a high level, what does Dataminr do?

Peter Bailey: Think about how people have historically learned about breaking events in the past. Breaking events is something that used to come from news, right? What Dataminr saw, roughly ten years ago when we started the company, was that some of these events that were being posted to social media that people were describing and witnessing were actually huge and impactful events. Big stories like airplanes going down in the Hudson River.

So the premise of Dataminr was how can we look at social media data in the aggregate, all at once, in real time, as a giant stream of information, and detect breaking events in realtime? We built a capability that could process real-time data, now it’s upwards of 500 million tweets daily. The business we built is to find ways to deliver alerts about breaking information into B2B environments where groups of professionals need real-time information as quickly as possible to perform some critical task that their job relies, or their company relies on them to do.

Benzinga: Was there a seminal event that made you and (brother and CEO) Ted Bailey want to create Dataminr?

Bailey: Well, there were these seminal events that I think were very much written about back then, like the plane going down in the Hudson. That was a very seminal social media event. It was well documented after that fact that people were tweeting about it long before it was in New York City media.

Chief Strategy Officer Peter Bailey

Chief Strategy Officer Peter Bailey And this idea that something like that, that was so public and so in front of us, and yet there was this twenty minute delay between the plane going down and people tweeting about it and it actually being in mainstream news. And that time delay, that time arbitrage, encouraged Ted and the rest of us early on to think about ‘Who would need to know right now that a plane just went down in the Hudson?’

Benzinga: I know Dataminr started out on Wall Street servicing hedge funds and asset managers. Are there other industries you provide data for?

Bailey: Finance is one market that we’ve thrived in delivering alerts that are relevant to companies, financial topics and different sectors. We are very popular in the public sector. We’re used by emergency response groups and personnel who use our alerts in the context of public safety to know about breaking events that can impact the safety and security of citizens. So we’re used for example, by the New York City Department of Emergency Management to reduce the time from incident to response.

Corporate security is another big area for us. Corporations, large Fortune 1000 corporations, their security teams are looking at a global footprint of physical assets, infrastructure, and personnel. These security teams look after the entire global footprint of major corporations. Dataminr alerts them to events that can impact not just the safety of the people in their buildings, but the entire operation.

And the fourth market that we’re in is news and journalism. We partnered with Twitter to build a product for the news media and journalism space. So together we built a product that would delivers breaking information to journalists so they wouldn’t have to stare at Twitter all day, because breaking news would find them.

Benzinga: How do you get involved with the city of New York? How does that work?

Bailey: Our relationship is with the New York City Department of Emergency Management. The partnership started with the city’s need to incorporate social media to help the city respond more quickly to emergency situations.

So we were very warmly received when we showed up and started sharing our ability to detect, classify and determine the significance of social media activity in real-time. So if you’re someone who wants information that’s breaking about natural disasters, or if you’re someone who wants information on infrastructure issues or transportation issues, we have gone through the history of Twitter and looked at the way information breaks about certain topics. What does it look like in the data when there’s a freak water main break? What does it look like when there’s a train derailment?

Benzinga: What other industries do you see Dataminr moving into?

Bailey: So outside of the four markets we are in today there are many more that are knocking on our door wanting us to build products for them. We just have to be very specific about how we grow and how we prioritize. As we grow and as we expand, you’ll see Dataminr move into a number of new markets because the opportunity is just that fast. The world is now fully waking up to the idea that real time information is now in social media datasets. And if you’re not using sophisticated tools to help you understand what is in this data, and how you can get at it, people are now aware they’re way behind the curve.

Benzinga: If the past decade was about learning how to harness social media like you’re doing, what’s the next frontier in the age of big data?

Bailey: I think that’s a great question and I think it’s two things. One, I think that there’s a lot of progress made and a lot of innovation in the last decade around taking big data sets and mining them for insights, if you will, and creating tools that could help you query datasets for insights. Dataminr has taken that a big step further. We process big data sets like Twitter, but rather than creating query products, our methodology creates actionable, proactive alerts. Second, now that we have created unique alerts for our customers, we know there are many other data sets that can help us in real time, which we can layer on top of our existing alerts.

For example, one of the things that Dataminr does very well today is identifying unexpected events having to do with infrastructure or facilities, say a manufacturing or chemical plant explosion. Because there's a giant plume of smoke in the sky, people who are nearby turn to social media to share what’s happening.

But there’s a lot of the other information that isn't available in social media. Like, for example, if it’s a chemical plant, what chemicals have been released in the atmosphere? Social media is not going to be able to tell you that but a satellite can tell you that by doing an analysis of the atmosphere in real time. And bringing together various new and emerging data sets into one cohesive real-time experience is going to make for an exciting future.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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