There’s nothing worse in startup land than falling madly in love with a new product, only to see it destroyed with each new iteration. As a company tries to find product market fit and overcome technological obstacles, it’s all too common that they lose sight of their original value add.
That appears to be the case with Tame.it, one of my all-time favorite applications that I’ve watched struggle to find its footing in investment and user growth. Tame is essentially an analyzer for your Twitter stream. Instead of you having to check in on Twitter every few minutes for fear of missing something major, Tame boils down the top ten hashtags, top ten story links, and top ten Twitter users that everyone you follow are talking about. That way, with a quick skim of a dashboard, you can get an immediate sense as to what’s happening in your Twitterverse that matters.
You can even break the analysis down by your lists, since, in my case, my West Coast startup friends are likely to be discussing far different topics, links, and people, than say, my New York media friends.
Tame acted like a consumer-facing DataMinr, the service that combs Twitter for breaking financial news to pass on to its hedge fund and media clients. But Tame is built for the lowly peons among us looking for a little bit of organization and clarity to their shouting Twitter universe. The freemium consumer product at least.
The business version of Tame has fancy features the require a subscription, like surfacing the most discussed links and hashtags for people who follow you, not just people you follow. As you can imagine, that’s a gold mine of information for brands looking to do quick, capture-the-moment viral social media schemes.
Unfortunately for the Tame creators, the idea has not taken off. Perhaps people are just too entrenched in their obsessive Twitter checking habits to need higher level analysis. Perhaps not enough people need Twitter to stay connected to the latest news, information, and figures in their industry. Perhaps, Tame — based in Germany — just hasn’t rallied the right Silicon Valley supporters to evangelize the cause. Whatever the reason, Tame.it has struggled to keep its head above water with a mere pittance in venture capital.
You can imagine my delight, then, when the founders pinged me to let me know that at long last the service had come to iOS. (Previously it was only available via the Web.) Perhaps a mobile app would be exactly the thing Tame needed to take off with users. After all, when is the best time to briefly surf the latest Twitter trends and news? In transit.
Unfortunately, upon taking a look at the app, it does not quite live up to what I hoped. Tame has attempted a bit of a pivot. It still includes one of its core features — linking to your Twitter account, analyzing the people you follow, and generating a list of the top ten story links everyone is talking about. But the rest of the functionality — hashtag and user tracking, and being able to analyze your lists instead of just all your followers — are gone. (They’re still available via the paid Web product.)
Instead, Tame has pivoted into a much more saturated market: content discovery. Users can choose to follow thought leaders or individual Internet-wide hashtags which will curate the top news articles. It’s not tied to the people they follow on Twitter, it’s more based on picking themes like “tech” or “fashion.”
With players like WaPo’s Trove, Flipboard, Prismatic, Rockmelt, and N3twork all offering similar features, this is hardly an empty sector. Furthermore, it guts what for me has been Tame’s biggest differentiator and the reason I’ve found the product so exciting: analysis of your own Twitter feed.
I don’t need more ways to discover content. I need a way to understand what my particular network is caring about in that moment. Thats the kind of information that’s dropped at business parties and in work meetings, the sort of prescient cultural what’s-hot that can lead to interesting ideas and discussion.
Tame has a perfectly valid reason for taking this alternative route. The company measured user behavior and found that people were primarily interested in the story links. Those stories became a good gateway into the rest of the Twitter community.
“We had to make a decision to focus on something first in the app,” says Tame.it co-founder and CMO Torsten Müller. “Maybe later we want to implement more features and hashtags, but especially for the start since we’re targeting people who don’t know Tame yet we want to keep it simple.”
Tame sees its typical user as someone new to the world of social media, trying to learn how to use Twitter effectively. That’s a far different model than someone like me, who needs Twitter for professional advancement.
As for whether Tame was still struggling to drum up a big enough user base to attract investor interest?
“We didn’t move much further from that point,” Müller admits. “We’re still in this bridge period of trying to find new investments. We’ll see how that goes. We’re optimistic with our two products now.”
[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]