Thousands of lobbyists have signed up to a new free political monitoring service that launched last month and which only came about after a drunken bet, PubAffairs has learned. PoliMonitor, a new tech start up from the team behind Westminster PA, has been inundated with sign-ups since its launch in January. According to its founders it started out as a "silly wager", to make a freebie for a client but "is snowballing into something a little bigger than anticipated".
The site which enables users to search the Twitter feeds of MPs, Peers, and members of devolved institutions also allows users to receive a free daily email alert with all the search results. In the four weeks since its launch the founders say over 2,000 email alerts have been set up and over 7,000 people have undertaken searches on the site.
Olly Kendall, co-founder of PoliMonitor, speaking to PubAffairs said: "We knew that a tool to track what MPs and elected politicians say on Twitter would be useful but the early take-up has surprised all of us." Kendall says the site's programmers intentionally designed PoliMonitor to make it as easy as possible to set up alerts. "There's no registration needed. You just search then enter your email and you're up and running, and obviously it's free, which helps" added Kendall, who also founded the strategic comms agency Westminster PA which recently brought in Brussels lobbyist David Hubert to head up its European practice.
"It came about after a series of conversations with clients" Kendall continues, "mainly in the not-for-profit and charitable sectors - who were looking for a way to set up alerts to find out when MPs and peers were mentioning their organisation or policy areas on Twitter. One Friday night I challenged our tech team to build something in under a month. They did - I lost that bet!"
"They worked on a prototype which ultimately led to PoliMonitor. We thought at first it would just be a client freebie but then it seemed to make much more sense to make it available for public use."
There are now 570 MPs on Twitter who between them send an estimated 750,000 Tweets each year. "We think that when you combine MPs, Peers, MSPs, AMs, MLAs and the other feeds on our service that there will easily be over one million tweets sent this year by politicians around the UK" Kendall speculates. "None of this is rocket science. We're seeing ever increasing numbers of elected politicians using Twitter and posting in ever increasing volumes. Not being able to quickly capture what they are saying on Twitter can be a real blind spot for lobbyists. This just fills in the blanks."
Much like TheyWorkForYou which provides a search facility for Hansard and allows users to set up free alerts, PoliMonitor offers a broadly equivalent service for Twitter content. The founders - who include Westminster PA Partner Sam Cunningham and Dan Hartropp - insist that this is not an attempt to disrupt existing monitoring providers. "Absolutely not!" says Cunningham, who met Kendall when they were both Parliamentary researchers in 2004 and went on to work with Gordon Brown on his digital comms at No 10. "It's like Olly says - this started out as just a bit of fun. Besides, other monitoring services do a great job at what they do. We respect them, but what we're doing is in a pretty different space and has really come about by chance rather than design. Technology has moved on so what cost tens of thousands of pounds only a few years ago is now much more affordable to build. PoliMonitor is only really a semi-disruptive technology - some people will prefer to pay for their social media monitoring, others will find this service does everything they need. It's as simple as that."
Kendall adds, however, they have plans to expand the service if the numbers keep growing, "We'll probably add more groups of policy-makers over coming months so that we can truly capture all the really important voices in and around Westminster and the Devolved Assemblies."