More than two years after its founding, San Francisco startup Scout Labs has unveiled its first software suite, an assortment of Web monitoring tools that allows marketers to monitor chatter about their brands across social and consumer-generated media.
The first phrase of the article says a lot. The launch of Scout Labs was a long time coming, and I was there at the very beginning. When my friend Jenny called me more than two years ago and laid out her vision for the Scout Labs software-as-a-service product, I jumped on board without any hesitation. From my years of consulting, I knew how hungry marketers are for data about what’s happening in social media circles, and I knew how much they routinely paid for it. I knew the idea of delivering this as an affordable SaaS tool was a winner. I took the title “Experience Architect” because I wanted it to describe my function rather than my position in the org chart, and along with Margaret and Jon, we embarked.
I poured a lot into Scout Labs for 18 months, before I became the first (and so far only) member of the original team to leave. Partly, I was impatient. Two-and-a-half years is a long time, and there were some pretty big bumps along the way.
In those two years a whole bunch of other companies entered what had been a totally empty playing field. The space was given a name (or several – social media analysis, social media monitoring, online brand monitoring); leaders emerged. Scout Labs drifted further and further from the center of attention until we weren’t mentioned at all anywhere. The challenge kept getting bigger.
Early on, we thought of the tool as having three pillars of functionality. We called these Tune In, Jump In and Collaborate. The foundation of everything was the ability to “Tune In” to the content real people generate about things marketers and brand managers care about. We knew it had to sift through the content, tease out the significant things and present these in ways that provide insight and meaning. We knew it shouldn’t be a passive or voyeuristic app, and that it needed to enable marketers and brand managers to engage with both fans and detractors. And finally, we wanted to enable and encourage teams to share their insights and work efficiently with each other.
As a UE guy, I furiously cranked out screens for our dream application – as well as the real one of course. I labored over a myriad of ways to slice and dice and visualize all the juicy data we expected to have in the tool. I whiteboarded like hell. Then I waited… for the data mostly. We all waited. Except for the engineers, who labored just as furiously to go after that data.
And that’s the other thing that happened in the course of those “more than two years.”
You can have all the cool visualizations and analysis you want, but it’s worthless without good data. And although there’s suddenly some stiff competition out there – from free tools as well as some very expensive services – I believe this is where Scout Labs will rule. Some of the early criticism in the first wave of blog posts and comments about Scout Labs (largely from people that haven’t actually used the tool) is that it’s pretty barebones. It’s thin on analysis.
But the word from the beta testers is that the content it returns is better, more complete and more interesting than what they were getting from Google Alerts. Better than Google. Now that’s good.
Now that the data Scout Labs returns is finally rock solid, the sexy slicing and dicing and visualizations will come soon. Much less than two years from now 😉