After attending one of Twitter’s developer teatimes here in Seattle and having various other Twitter API related experiences recently (more on that soon), it’s becoming a bit obvious that there’s a rapidly-emerging subspecies of news app coming into being.  This sort of app can trace its origins pretty directly to pre-Twitter sites like Techmeme and its cousins, but can be distinguished by a primary reliance on social sources, rather than feeds (Techmeme etc. now also incorporates Twitter into its algorithm, but that was added later.)

That’s not to say there existed no news sites/apps based on the Twitter API before the last six months. However, whereas there is a lineage of Twitter mashups out there, these tend to be fairly rudimentary in nature in the sense that they don’t implement much (if any) intelligence on top of twitter streams, but simply aggregate and display them in clever ways. And while the big search engines and Twitter’s anointed resellers have been consuming the Twitter firehouse and implementing all sorts of intelligence/NLP/indexing over it for some time now, these sorts of activities (even on the level of link counting and indexing) were beyond the powers of news developers.

That has now changed.

So if we have a new genre on our hands, we have to name it right? I’m going to call these sorts of apps news smashups. (ok so it’s kind of a dumb name, and I know it can also mean “bad automobile accident” … but humor me.) Definition:

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

A news smashup is a news-oriented web application that:

  • consumes streams of content primarily from social sources (Twitter) in near real time.
  • applies intelligence/indexing/filtering to these sources, also in near real time.
  • implements a web experience that to the end user appears to be edited, curated or guided by a subset of the social web.

Drawn completely from my own biases and experiences, here are a few illustrative (and in some cases mysterious) examples of this type of thing:

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Muckrack!  What started as everyone’s favorite Twitter mashup for collecting, categorizing and streaming tweets from a big pool of journalists is now replete with bells and whistles, including new pro features like search and alerts.  This is a great example of a curation/aggregation Twitter application focused on a particular vertical. It’s also an example of how a mashup can become a … smashup!

From the somewhat mysterious department, there’s Percolate: a Twitter aggregator powered by a set of relevance algorithms and feedback mechanisms … but with much higher aspirations.  From the horse’s mouth:  Percolate works by hooking up to streams of content … and filtering down to the most interesting stuff for you . We then present that content back to you for you to react to, which is as easy as hitting an “awesome” button.

Sociative develops technology to use “social signals” (largely from Twitter) to identify content signal amid a huge amount of content noise.  Applications of their technology so far include several socially-curated sites, most recently a socially driven representation of news from the occupy movement called Occupy Live.

Andrew Phelps, prototypical journo-hacker, built Fuego, The Nieman Lab’s “heat seeking twitter bot.” Fuego collects the most popular content from a curated set of media experts in realtime, and exposes them as a simple list of trending material based on link counting and other weighting.

I’m sure that this is an entirely incomplete list. I’d love to hear what others think about defining this as a genre. Does it make sense to do so? If so, what are some other examples of this sort of thing in the news apps space?