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Expert Labs Rolls Out ThinkUp, a Gov't Social Media Dashboard

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, September 28 2010

Remember Expert Labs? You might recall an interview that we did back in April with its director, Anil Dash, but the short of it is that Expert Labs was set up by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, backed by a MacArthur grant, to help the U.S. federal government try to fulfill the promise of "gov 2.0" by equipping them with software tools that enable them to better manage their online engagement.

That's the background. The new news is that Gina Trapani, a developer with Expert Labs whom you might remember from Life Hacker, has announced that they've shipped a beta version of the first of those tools. It's called ThinkUp. Trapani describes ThinkUp as "PHP/MySQL webapp that archives your social media interactions in a database you control." Imagine it as a private dashboard for your Twitter and Facebook personas.

What ThinkUp equips you to do is to both capture and interpret not only your social media posts and tweets and such, but to do the same for everyone who engages with your content, such as by retweeting or replying to your notes. The thinking is that, at some point in your social media evolution, your ability to manage your engagement doesn't scale. Attract enough followers, tweet enough times, and you'll need some help making sense of what ripples out from your activity -- especially if you've got a big footprint in those spaces, like, say, the White House. And the Obama White was indeed, reports Expert Labs, an alpha tester of an earlier iteration of ThinkUp, using it last spring to track how people reacted to its Twitter and Facebook call for ideas on what the administration's next scientific "Grand Challenge" should be.

Whether or not online collaborative engagement on Twitter or Facebook or next year's social platform moves from something experimental for big U.S. government agencies to something core to their way of doing the people's business may well depend on whether they can get the systems they need to make it manageable -- even when the guy or gal who set up Department X's Twitter account rides off into the sunset. ThinkUp is an attempt to fill that space. That said, it's freeware. So you don't have to run a federal department to try it out. As long as you know how to install a web app on your server, you can give it a spin.