SportStream’s App Bottles the Social Media Explosion in Sports

I don’t have much of a head for sports. If you said “ERA” my first thought would be Equal Rights Amendment, not Earned Run Average. And being a cable TV cord-cutter, I never watch televised games. But I do know about iPads, social media, and next-generation-TV technologies. So at the risk of sounding like a total doofus, I’m going to spend some time telling you about SportStream, a cool new app that lets sports fans join online conversations about their favorite teams while they’re watching games on TV.

SportStream is basically Twitter plus instant messaging plus play-by-play updates, all organized around your favorite teams’ live games. The free app came out in June, and it’s the product of a San Francisco startup backed by Paul Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft who loves sports (he owns the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trailblazers) and loves to invest in tech startups through his holding company, Vulcan. The startup has interesting roots in the Bay Area search scene—and it has ambitions to become the leading company providing “second screen” experiences that make watching TV sports more social and more fun.

There’s no question that sports events are major grist for social media conversations. Tweets about Super Bowl XLVI back in February reached a peak volume of more than 12,000 per second. And it’s been impossible to follow Twitter this week without hearing ceaselessly about the London Olympics—especially viewer fury over NBC’s coverage strategy, which is piling up at an exponential rate under the #NBCfail hashtag.

“If you’re a sports fan, you have an inherently social, passionate, emotional connection to your favorite teams, players, and sports,” says Bob Morgan, SportStream’s co-founder and vice president of product and marketing. “That is why you’re seeing the volume of discussion in the social networks really explode.”

The SportStream main page shows a stream of Twitter posts, play-by-play updates, and other information related to each game the user is following.

The volume is so explosive, in fact, that it’s becoming overwhelming. Even if you’re just interested in one event or one team—say, the Detroit Tigers—there are too many people chattering away on Facebook and Twitter to keep track of all of them. That’s where SportStream’s unique expertise in content filtering comes in.

When you sign into the SportStream app and start following a game, the app shows you a timeline of play-by-play updates and tweets. But they’re not just any tweets, and they’re not from the people you usually follow on Twitter. Instead, they’re the ones that SportStream thinks are most relevant, authoritative, and interesting.

According to Will Hunsinger, SportStream’s CEO and other co-founder, the app is “coalescing the social media conversation around a particular game” using a “temporal, relevancy, and credibility filter to provide the user with a highly focused experience.” That’s a bit of jargon, but when it comes to relevancy and filters, Hunsinger does know what he’s talking about: he’s also the CEO of Evri, a Seattle-based startup that makes topic-based news reader apps for the iPad, Kindle Fire, and other mobile devices. He says SportStream’s filtering technology is its “biggest advantage” over other companies offering sports-related social media and second-screen apps.

That technology is partly a legacy of SportStream’s connection to Evri and to a previous startup, San Francisco-based Radar Networks, which Evri absorbed in 2010. Radar Networks had built a social bookmarking service called Twine where users and semantic algorithms worked together to create a network of interlinked topic pages. The Twine technology complemented Evri’s natural language processing algorithms that seek to categorize news stories by topic. By combining the companies, Evri ended up with “deep expertise in mobile, social media and [an] understanding of how to filter large volumes of content,” Hunsinger says.

As it happened, a lot of the people in Evri’s San Francisco office—the former Radar Networks location—were “hardcore sports fans,” Morgan says. They began to think about the ways they might use filtering technology to organize online conversations around … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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