When Donald Trump announced his pick to succeed James Comey as FBI Director this morning, he didn't break the news in The New York Times, The Washington Post or Axios. As often happens, the appointment appeared on his Twitter feed first.
I will be nominating Christopher A. Wray, a man of impeccable credentials, to be the new Director of the FBI. Details to follow.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 7, 2017
That's the way it works, nowadays: News organizations, once the arbiters and primary distributors of information, can easily be circumvented with a quick tweet or Facebook post.
That's one of the reasons why Bill Frischling, the entrepreneur behind Factba.se, is getting ready to scale up his burgeoning business. Factba.se, which got its start by assembling a vast archive of President Trump's statements on all platforms, has incorporated as FactSquared and this morning announced a six-figure investment round led by former VerticalNet CEO Mark Walsh.
With the investment comes the ambition to apply the method it used to index statements from President Trump — now 3.5 million words and counting — to the realms of politics and business more broadly. Now that politicians are their own primary sources of information, Frischling wants to provide a searchable repository for the raw data they provide.
“It used to be, 20 years ago, finding the information was hard," Frischling said. "Now, it’s (about) finding what’s important, and you’re swimming in information.”
Frischling envisions a two-tiered business model for Factba.se. Most users will be able to access the entire archive of information — transcripts of interviews, social media posts and quotes from books — for free. There's a tacit assumption that these users will contribute primary information when they have it to grow the base of knowledge. There will also be a paid tier for users who are interested in using Factba.se's proprietary technology to quickly analyze raw information from public figures or companies.
Factba.se's marriage of data with search and analysis tools has the potential to be "a very powerful resource," said Matt Koll, a longtime tech executive and investor in Factba.se.
"By including purely primary materials, separating out factual information from analysis and opinion, Factba.se creates a unique platform for discovering the reality of a person or organization," he said. "When you combine that data with rich search and analysis tools, you have a very powerful resource."
Factba.se has already begun experimenting with monetizing its raw data. The Trump Feed, an $0.99 app that provides a digest of the tweets, Facebook posts and statements from administration officials, has so far brought in $1,000, Frischling said.
Although much of the interest in Factba.se has so far been from journalists (nearly 50 percent of its traffic comes from newsrooms, Frischling said) the intended customers for the company's paid tier won't be media companies. Rather, Frischling envisions licensing the company's data analysis software to political campaigns who might be interested in parsing raw transcripts with audio and video fingerprinting technology and "entity, keyword, emotion and personality analysis," according to a statement.
Factba.se will not begin building repositories of information around other public figures the way it has around President Trump, Frischling said. Rather, the company will continue to develop tools to create an open-source repository of information.
"We’re picking our shots," Frischling said. "We’re not going to be a news organization. We’re trying to be the clay and allowing other people to get to work."
Before soliciting any further investment, Frischling wants to see whether there's a wider market for the services that Factba.se offers.
"I want to make sure this is a business and not just an interesting hobby,” he said.