Free Widgets from ViralHeat Let Web Publishers Track Social Media Buzz

No, “ViralHeat” is not the fever you get from a rhinovirus infection. It’s a San Jose, CA-based startup launched last year that’s disrupting the social media monitoring business by showing corporations what people are saying about them on Twitter, Facebook, Google Buzz, YouTube, and the Web at prices far below those charged by most competitors.

Now ViralHeat is lowering its prices even more—to zero. At least, for one product: a new “Social Trends” widget that anyone can use to enhance their website with real-time data about who’s up and who’s down in the world of social media buzz.

Any day now, ESPN plans to launch an NFL rankings scoreboard using a customized version of the Social Trends software to show which teams and players are winning the most social-media mentions and whether sentiment is, on balance, positive or negative. But starting today, anyone who goes to ViralHeat’s website can enter a topic of their choice and get code for a free embeddable chart tracking social-media mentions over the last week for the thousands of entities tracked by ViralHeat. A chart on “Web browsers,” for example, would show how many people are talking this week about Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera.

Social Trends charts using data shared by top ViralHeat customers have been a feature of the startup’s website since last summer. But “one of the things we decided to do a few months ago was completely redesign Social Trends and make it far better, and give it away so that people can embed it,” says ViralHeat co-founder Raj Kadam. “For example, a lot of journalists have said, ‘I’m writing an article about X or Y, it would be great if there were a widget like a stock ticker right next to my article.’ Now they can do that. These charts really embody the pulse of social media.”

Twitter, Facebook, and viral video sites like YouTube have grown into major forums for consumer praise and scorn of popular brands, and few companies feel they can ignore what’s being said there. But this intelligence doesn’t usually come cheap. Access to a basic analytics dashboard at New Brunswick-based Radian6, one of the leading companies in the social media monitoring market, starts at $600 a month, with the ultimate cost depending on the volume of mentions counted each month. Other companies like Seattle’s Visible Technologies have raised massive venture rounds to provide “social intelligence services.” Angel-funded ViralHeat’s pricing starts at $10 per month, and its highest-end plan costs only $90 per month.

“We wanted to come into this space and offer something really unique,” says Kadam. ViralHeat’s main advantage, he says, is that it has built its own technology from scratch, from Web crawlers to the software that sucks in data from Facebook and Twitter to the analytics and user interface. “Other companies in this space haven’t built their own aggregation infrastructure, so they have to take all that data they aggregate and ship it off to someone else to process it, and even the raw data has to come from somewhere else. We wanted everyone to have that data, not just big brands and PR agencies, and that has forced us to be really innovative.”

Kadam co-founded Viral Heat in July 2009 with Vishal Sankhla. Both were formerly software engineers at Network Chemistry, a Wi-Fi security startup acquired by Aruba Networks (NASDAQ: ARUN) in 2007. In just over a year they’ve won more than 5,000 customers, and their Linux back end processes 70 to 80 million social-media mentions a day. The goal is to deliver data that’s no more than 8 minutes old, Kadam says.

The four-employee startup is already profitable, according to Kadam. It can afford to give away the Social Trends data because its infrastructure is so scalable, and because the data shown in the free widgets is only a small slice of what paying customers see.

“If you’re looking at a profile for Bill Gates, for example, we’ll give away five types of data for free, but inside the product there are far more data points, like sentiment, viral influence, traffic analytics. All that is stuff you’d have to pay for”—and it’s the kind of information going into ESPN’s pending NFL “Power Rankings,” a kind of living infographic tracking the buzz on every NFL team. “For publishers, this brings a whole new level of relevance to whatever they are writing about,” says Kadam.

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

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