ThinkUp: Social Media "Quantified Selfies"

Steve Martin reading

Noted tweeter, Steve Martin used ThinkUp for his book.
Photo:Yaffa Phillips

Would you like a private social database to monitor and archive your online life? Storing and tracking your every Facebook post, Tweet, image update and video?

Did your last tweet make people happy?

What was your most popular post on this day last year? Who have you lost touch with on the social networks? Did someone share one of your recent posts with a large audience?

Do you ever find yourself wanting to easily answer these questions?

Well, you are in luck, as some of the smartest (and nicest) people on the Internet have created a tool that watches your social media activity and answers these questions and many more. That tool is called ThinkUp. And it’s an open-source social media tool, that has been available for a few years.

While the insights can be useful and fun, setting up ThinkUp was not something for the faint of heart. (Well, unless your idea of “fun” is setting up web servers, databases and backups.)

With that barrier to entry in mind, and to make ThinkUp available to a wider audience, the creators have formed a new company that will offer ThinkUp as a service. Everything is still open-source and private (an option), but you won’t need to install anything, run your own servers or maintain the system.

Essentially anyone will be able to access ThinkUp’s insights. If you want to support this great project, check out their Kickstarter-style crowd funding campaign.

What is ThinkUp?

ThinkUp offers two main services: archiving of your social media interactions, and analysis of that data.


Facebook, Twitter and Google learn a lot about you by watching your online activity. ThinkUp allows you to capture your own data and learn more about your own interactions. ThinkUp monitors your social media accounts and  stores activity in your own database. This creates an historical record for personal data mining. You can’t count on the various networks to provide you with information. For example, Twitter did not even offer a complete tweet history until recently. Even if you downloaded Twitter archive, it would still be very difficult to find things like historical mentions.


With the database ThinkUp creates at your disposal, we can perform some pretty impressive analysis. Earlier versions of ThinkUp offered the usual assortment of graphs and charts, but since 2.0 the analysis focuses on events and interactions to provide simplified views of your social media impact. They call these “insights,” and more are being added all the time. Some of the more useful ones already available:

  • Did people like my old profile pic better than my new one?
  • Did anybody who’s well-known share this?
  • What did I say this week that got the biggest reaction?

Such insight can make social media more enjoyable for anyone, but for professionals, this information can be invaluable. Say, for example, someone famous shared a recent post, you may want to thank them, or post more content that may be of interest to their audience. What if one of your regular re-posters stopped sharing your content? You could now look into why and maybe focus on winning them back.

Used by Professionals (Like Us!)

At Firebrand we’ve been running our own installations of ThinkUp since 2011 (beta 14.) It has proven indispensable in digging up historical information requested by clients. The ThinkUp Insights have allowed us to see the effectiveness of our social media efforts in a more meaningful way than simple Likes or Retweets. For example, ThinkUp can point out if we’ve significantly changed the volume of posts for a particular account. It alerts us when someone with a larger audience amplifies one of our posts. (“Someone with 30x more followers than retweeted this post.”)

ThinkUp Screenshot

Fortunately this new service from ThinkUp means you won’t need to maintain your own servers like we do. Installing ThinkUp on your own servers isn’t really a big technical challenge, but if you’re dealing with a lot of social media activity, the databases can easily grow to tens of millions of records, which takes some management and server resources.

Good Code from Good People

ThinkUp (the software) was originally created by Gina Trapani. For this new ThinkUp company she has combined forces with Anil Dash. You may have heard of Gina before, as she started Lifehacker. She’s a highly respected developer/writer/host who’s arguably one of the smartest web people out there. As for Anil, he was the first employee at Six Apart, the creator of Movable Type – an influential force in the formative years of blogging. Together, they founded Expert Labs, an Open Government project that, amongst other things, developed ThinkUp to monitor and analyze the White House social media.

Try ThinkUp Yourself

If you’re a developer who needs to improve your social media presence, go grab the ThinkUp code from GitHub and go to town. If you want access to these Insights and don’t want to run the code yourself, go sign up for the $10/month service. You’ll be able to track 10 accounts across different networks. Oh, and did we mention that Gina and Anil are “good eggs?” Gina’s motto: “It is nice to be nice.” So, go out there and take control of your quantified self and do some damage. Perhaps create some art project? Who knows what’s possible with all that data. If you do something with ThinkUp, please let us know. We’d love to see what you make of it.