App puts tech biz on the map

Are you worried you’re just not spending enough time on Twitter lately? Asterisq, a new local tech start-up, has an app for that.

John Gray, Daniel McLaren and Travis Cote, the trio behind the new business, largely operate out of Gray’s home in New West and Wi-Fi enabled coffee shops, but they are hoping the mentions being generated by their innovative Mentionmapp program, which provides a visual representation of Twitter account activity, will soon lead to bigger and better things.

Worth mentioning: From left, Travis Cote, John Gray and Daniel McLaren are the driving forces behind Asterisq, a new local technology business that has created the Mentionmap program that tracks Twitter activity. (Larry Wright photo)

“It was just a fun project, something (McLaren) hacked together to amuse himself over a weekend in December 2009, but we found that in the past six months, some of the buzz, some of the traction that we’re getting through the tool is really quite thrilling,” said Gray after over the phone from a Waves outlet in Vancouver. “I was just looking at our Google analytics, and we had almost 81,000 users in the past month check out Mentionmapp. Considering we’re not doing any advertising or getting written up in TechCrunch or anything like that, it’s not bad for three humble little B.C. guys.”

Mentionmapp works a bit like an interactive flow chart or, as the name suggests, a map of who and what people mention. Simply plug in a username – your own or someone like, say, @barackobama, @ladygaga or even the highly followable @flematic – and you instantly get a free visual interface based on that person’s recent Twitter activity.

“Basically, it’s a Flash-based application for digital graph visualizations,” said Gray, the self-described “business guy” who leaves the heavy lifting of creating code to his two more computer-savvy partners.

Mentionmap loads each user’s last 100 tweets and shows the people and hashtags they talked about the most. The data is displayed using Constellation Framework, a graph visualization system where mentions become connections and discussions between multiple users emerge as clusters.

The user-friendly interface also lets users drag the canvas in order to pan, zoom in and out, auto-centre and search. Users can also simply retrace their steps using the history bar.

Like so many good ideas on the Internet, the next step is to somehow find a way to make some money from it. Gray said he thinks this isn’t unrealistic.

“I’ll put it to you this way,” he said. “On Monday, when I got an unsolicited e-mail from a private investment bank down in Palo Alto wanting to know more about us and more about our tool, it suggest we’re getting on a little bit of radar. … It didn’t put any money in our pockets right now, but we were one of the first third-party companies to have an application included in the HootSuite‘s new app directory; they’re a social media dashboard based here in Vancouver who are up over a million users. Looking forward, we’re looking to add some additional features to Mentionmapp that will make it more useful and strike some licensing arrangements with the appropriate bigger players.”

(This story was first published Feb. 16, 2011. © Copyright (c) National Post)

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