If each voice in your Facebook stream were a singer, it would be a total cacophony. A new service called Thunderclap aims to help people with a message break through that noise by coordinating large groups to achieve the powerful harmony of a choir. The tool creates a “flash-mob” of social network activity around a single message, with the goal of getting heard over the din of the internet.
Here's how it works: Individuals or organizations create a message they hope to spread—anything from supporting earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti to rooting for your favorite football team. Like-minded people can then show their support for the message by agreeing to let Thunderclap post it (with, presumably, a link to a website or petition) from their Facebook or Twitter accounts. Once enough people sign up, the Thunderclap reaches a tipping point, similar to how Groupon or Kickstarter works, and the message is released by all the supporters’ social media at the exact same time.
The result is that, “for a lot of people, they’ll see multiple messages in their social streams,” says Thunderclap's Jason Fried. “Or you might see four or five Facebook posts.” Thunderclap lets participants customize the message they're contributing to the social media event, so their followers don’t end up feeling spammed by viewing one message over and over, so long as they keep the promoted URL the same. According to Fried, “That actually creates a stronger message. If you think about it, if you saw 100 people throughout the day tweeting the same message, that’s not really as strong as if you saw people tweeting about the same thing.”
The first Thunderclap was released at the beginning of June, organized by Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi in support of Wall Street reform. Nearly 2,000 people signed up to tweet at legislators at the same time, reaching more than 4 million Twitter followers. The event's success prompted Twitter to temporarily ban Thunderclap from accessing its API, which some speculated meant Twitter considered the service a threat to its sponsored tweet advertising products. Twitter told Thunderclap they had violated the spam section of their Terms of Service, which prohibits posting “duplicate content over multiple accounts.”
The site went into a Facebook-only hiatus, but relaunches this week with Twitter (re)integration that complies with Twitter's terms of services (if all goes according to plan). Fried says the site plans to collaborate with a host of institutional partners including Al Jazeera and the Clinton Foundation. But for now, individuals and small organizations are the heart of the user base. About 90 Thunderclaps are live on the site, “which is awesome,” according to Fried, “because when you build something like this, you wonder, 'will they come?' People have come, and they are creating thunderclaps everyday.”
The project is the handiwork of De-De, a product development studio started by advertising agency Droga5. Thunderclap is the first product they've launched so far, and for now, the plan isn't to monetize it. Fried says other projects in the works for De-De include "an iPad app that will revolutionize email."