UberMedia wants to be the epicenter of the Twitterverse economy

By Laurie Segall, staff reporter


NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Twitter has 200 million users, but doesn't yet have a business model for turning a profit on them. Can an outsider do better?

Enter UberMedia. Last spring, entrepreneur Bill Gross decided to create a company that would sift through the Twitter ecosystem and spotlight the most important tweeters and tweets. The startup, originally called TweetUp, was cooked up inside Idealab -- one of the last surviving incubator/investment firms from the dot-com boom in the 90's.

Venture capitalists liked the idea. TweetUp quickly landed $3.5 million in funding from a number of backers, including New York-based Betaworks, First Round Capital, and AOL founder/angel investor Steve Case.

One year later, TweetUp has morphed beyond its original vision and became a parent company for an expanding portfolio of Twitter add-ons. Now called UberMedia, the company burst into the headlines this week with news that it had acquired TweetDeck, one of the most popular Twitter clients.

Those reports turned out to be premature -- sources say it's not yet a done deal -- but the move puts a spotlight on UberMedia's expanding ambition to be the epicenter of All Things Twitter.

Investors liked that idea even better. UberMedia closed another financing round this week, led by Accel Ventures. UberMedia and its investors declined to disclose the size, but an AllThingsD report put it at $17.5 million. The company's app collection now includes mobile clients UberTwitter and Twidroyd, plus tweet syncher Echofon.

"Our goals have evolved over the last year," says UberMedia COO Jon Kraft said. "Our number-one goal is to be the best partner for Twitter in their ecosystem, and help them grow and enhance their ecosystem."

With more than 110 million tweets per day now flying through its platform, Twitter is a fertile ground for outside developers to invent tools for enhancing and optimizing the tweetstream. As Kraft puts it: "The innovations that we bring to the table can continue [Twitter's] growth and accelerate that growth."

But there's one big catch. Twitter has been known to downplay third-party apps -- or acquire them, or internally build its own version. The company scooped up popular Twitter iPhone app Tweetie, and partnered up with photo add-on TwitPic as it launched its new interface. Those that don't get bought run the risk of getting bulldozed.

As UberMedia continues to build on Twitter's ecosystem, the company is adamant that it compliments, rather than competes, with the microblogging service.

"We're not in any way a competitive -- we do have a good relationship with Twitter," Kraft insists.

But the news that UberMedia is close to buying TweetDeck, one of Twitter's biggest clients, has been raising eyebrows.

"UberMedia says it wants to be Zynga to Twitter's Facebook, but that seems unlikely. Facebook tolerates Zynga because it makes money for Facebook and does something Facebook can't or won't do," AllThingsD writer Peter Kafka told CNNMoney.

"UberMedia seems much more like a Twitter competitor -- and by all accounts that's how Twitter views the company," he said. To top of page

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