The road to success can have many detours, and sometimes you end up far from your intended destination. Calgary company Tynt Multimedia is a perfect example.
Chief executive Derek Ball co-founded the company with Dayton Foster, the chief operating officer, in mid-2007, based on an idea that came from watching Mr. Ball's kids use social networking sites such as Facebook.
The company originally developed a tool that allowed social network users to add private comments and pictures to Web pages and share them with a select group.
But Mr. Ball admits there were problems with the product: "It wasn't really getting the momentum or market traction that would be necessary to be successful." Tynt was trying to sell its original technology to the social network operators, not the users, and with Facebook's growing dominance, there were fewer such players to go after.
Nevertheless, these early efforts showed Tynt's founders how shared content could influence behaviour, leading them to the company's current product: a way for online publishers to see who copies and pastes their content, and what they do with it.
Publishers can use those tools for free, while the data they collect will be used by Tynt to help online advertisers target their marketing and understand the effectiveness of their campaigns.
The idea was born while Tynt was still focused on social networking. The company was working with youth magazine publishers that were concerned about people cutting and pasting content from their websites.
Then Allan MacKenzie, Tynt's chairman, had an idea that arose from a family crisis. His son had meningitis, and Mr. MacKenzie had spent hours online researching the disease. Sometimes he would have trouble remembering the source of a piece of information he had saved or pasted into an e-mail. So, he thought, what if a link to the source was automatically included?
This would also be helpful to website operators, Tynt's managers thought, because it would help bring traffic back to the site.
The tool's scope has broadened since, and Tynt's technology now captures how people are using data – whether reposting on another site, e-mailing or even pasting it into a search engine to look for more information.
This last capability is significant, Mr. Ball says. When readers copy and paste into a browser, online publishers can learn what topics people are interested in. In addition, it can reveal information gaps in a site.
Tynt's tools rely on Internet cookies – widely used for tracking online behaviour – and small snippets of code that publishers can insert into Web pages. Simplicity is part of the appeal.
Times-Shamrock Corp., a newspaper publisher and broadcaster in Scranton, Penn., uses Tynt. Managers there liked that Tynt's software costs publishers nothing and implementing it would take little effort, says Tucker Hottes, a technology development manager. But also "we really like the analytics that it provides."
When readers copy and paste a story from one of the company's newspapers – as happened recently with a local gun-control decision, for instance – it's immediately apparent. "You really get to see how your content resonates with people," says Mr. Hottes. Times-Shamrock has also recently launched a pay wall on its flagship site – requiring visitors to pay for access to some content – and Tynt helps spot attempts to circumvent that, he says.
Tynt's technology has caught the eye of big publishers such as National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, the New York Post, MarthaStewart.com and several Canadian daily newspapers. While publishers are an obvious target market, Mr. Ball says, "we definitely see this as being applicable for anybody that has a website."
Tynt plans to use data collected to build "interest graphs" that can show advertisers what visitors are most interested in. Tynt will also help them track online interest in their brands.
Users are also able to measure the effectiveness of advertising campaigns, Mr. Ball says. Using Web cookies, Tynt can follow the online behaviour of users who have viewed a particular ad and compare it to the behaviour of a control group to track any increased interest in a product or brand.
Up to now, Tynt has relied on funding from five venture capital firms. The company only began testing its tools for advertisers early this year and isn't ready to name any of its early customers on that side of the business, though Mr. Ball says they include "some pretty big names" in the travel, automotive and food businesses.
Tynt's ability to build on that initial interest will determine whether its strategy works – or ends up as just another step in its evolution.