Big! Exciting! News: ThinkTank Is Now at Expert Labs

February 17, 2010

I am thrilled to announce I've landed a pinch-me dream job: I'm now a Project Director at Expert Labs, the new non-profit headed up by Anil Dash. I'll be in charge of developing ThinkTank. Here's what happened.

Last March I was thinking about buying a netbook, and asked my Twitter followers a question: Do you have a netbook? What do you love or hate about it?

When I got back 243 informed opinions by savvy netbook owners, I knew I needed a way to easily parse and share the most useful replies--and ThinkTank was born. ThinkTank is a work-in-progress web application that archives your conversations and social graph on Twitter (and eventually beyond). As you tweet, ThinkTank captures, filters, and ranks responses to those tweets so you can see the most useful responses first.

In other words, ThinkTank makes it easy to ask your contacts a question and find meaning in a high volume of responses. That's what makes it a perfect fit for Expert Labs. Expert Labs' goal is to make government run better by helping policy makers take advantage of the same kinds of crowdsourcing tools that the rest of us take for granted. Expert Labs is also part of the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science), the world's largest general scientific community. While you and I can use social networks to figure out what kind of netbook to buy, policy makers can use social networks to tap the expertise of scientists and technologists and inform decisions on how to govern. ThinkTank's goal is to facilitate that.

The most amazing part of this whole thing? The first project that will be putting ThinkTank to use is for the White House itself. The President has identified a series of scientific and technical challenges that are as important to the future as the moon landing was. And we want to help drive feedback on that list, and even suggest what other items should be on there that haven't been included. Here's more on the Grand Challenges initiative from the White House.

As for ThinkTank, three things about its design are of note: ThinkTank piggybacks on existing social networks so that users don't have to sign up for Yet Another Service to ask and answer questions; ThinkTank archives conversations and contacts into a standalone datastore you control; and ThinkTank is open source and community-developed.

  1. The conversations come to you. The success and popularity of Q&A services and communities like Ask MetaFilter, Stack Overflow, Aardvark and Yahoo! Answers prove that netizens want to offer their expertise and volunteer responses to questions that matter to them. Instead of building another island or service that users have to sign up for, ThinkTank creates that Q&A structure within social networks people are already on. Right now, ThinkTank captures and manipulates Twitter data; eventually, ThinkTank will work with other social networks like Facebook, blogs, and other emergent status-based social networks, thanks to the rich APIs those services provide.
  2. ThinkTank creates a standalone archive you control. ThinkTank is a web application you install on your own server, like WordPress. Your ThinkTank instance synchronizes your tweets (and eventually Facebook status updates and other posts) into a single database on your hosting provider. While most Twitter clients query the service live, ThinkTank is a standalone datastore separate from Twitter. Unlike other social network aggregators like FriendFeed or Google Buzz, you can query and filter ThinkTank's data in the ways that make the most sense for your purposes, because it lives in a database you control. Eventually, ThinkTank instances will be able to communicate peer-to-peer, independent of their source services.
  3. ThinkTank is free, open source, and developed by the community. ThinkTank's purpose is to help both policy makers and you tap "cloud expertise"; appropriately, the project itself needs the expertise of willing programmers and testers to achieve its goals. Right now ThinkTank is a pre-alpha work in progress, an open source project that a community of contributors is currently building. It's free for anyone to download, modify, and help define--especially now, in its formative stages. We hope you join us.

I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to grow ThinkTank from a weekend project for asking my friends about netbooks to a bridge between the public and policy makers. Lend a hand, won't you? Now that ThinkTank's at Expert Labs, when you contribute a feature or fix a bug, you're not only getting ThinkTank's benefits for your personal use, you're helping policy makers build a better government. Follow and fork the ThinkTank project on GitHub, join the ThinkTank mailing list, and follow @thinktankapp on Twitter.

In Support of Grand Challenges [Expert Labs]
Expert Labs, ThinkTank, Gina Trapani and our Grand Challenges [Anil Dash]

Congratulations, Gina! I hope this becomes a great success. I also hope that your other projects are still important enough for you to continue working on.

Jeremy Townsend [+2]
Feb 17 10 at 12:07 pm

Congratulations on getting the job, I was wondering if there is a free trial or free version of ThinkTank I could use to try out and see if it works for me.

Feb 17 10 at 12:07 pm

Uhm, AWESOME. Congrats! I love to see fellow girl geeks working on such awesome projects.

Lori Todd
Feb 17 10 at 12:11 pm

Wow – Congrats on the new gig. More proof that open sourcing your own software can land you a real job!

Ian C. Anderson [+1]
Feb 17 10 at 12:11 pm

Nice to see some new technology being used to try to advance democracy.

Mark Johnson
Feb 17 10 at 12:12 pm


Yansky [+1]
Feb 17 10 at 12:19 pm

Couldn’t be more excited to have you on board. :) [+3]
Feb 17 10 at 12:21 pm


Chris Davis [+3]
Feb 17 10 at 12:21 pm


I hope this doesn’t mean any slacking off in your role of Google/tech punditry!

Mark Hennessey
Feb 17 10 at 12:32 pm

This is MAJOR! Huge congrats Gina!

Warren Harrison [+2]
Feb 17 10 at 12:40 pm

Congratulations Gina! Really great news!

I’m thrilled for you, Gina! This looks great :D Congratulations!

tamar [+1]
Feb 17 10 at 12:45 pm

Congrats Gina!

Congrats Gina. Based on what I know of it / you – I’m sure this project will turn out to be a success.

Dane Hesseldahl [+3]
Feb 17 10 at 1:03 pm

Completely awesome and richly deserved. Congrats! I love that the very thing you really want to do will be so well supported by someone like Anil who will fully appreciate you. And what a great first client! All of us taxpayers and our President :-)

[Hope you'll keep in mind some of the social and tummeling elements that might be worked into the platform tools and the people hosting and connecting with them in terms of what relationally encourages contributions as well as the evaluation of contributions.

Popularity contests and perceived social status and who and what "matters" can be worked with to ensure people don't give up or just stay quiet.

Happy to help you with those in any way that I can. We're game to talk it through on a Tummelvision show with collective experts too.]

Outstanding! Gina, I witnessed the need for ThinkTank’s capabilities on Steve Rubell’s Buzz feed yesterday.on handling social media overload. I’m sure he needed help harvesting value from the responses — especially in his role as analyst. IMO, tools like ThinkTank are critical to extracting value from SM interactions.

Facebook User [+3]
Feb 17 10 at 1:43 pm

Well that didn’t go as planned. How do I delete a mangled comment?

Facebook User [+3]
Feb 17 10 at 1:47 pm

Felicidades, Gina. Nadie mejor que tu para un esfuerzo de este tamaño.

Don’t leave San Diego!

@Randy: I got you covered, just fixed it.

And thanks everyone!

Gina Trapani [+195]
Feb 17 10 at 4:04 pm

Way to go Gina!!!
Feb 17 10 at 5:01 pm

Congrats Gina! Hope to still hear you on “This Week in Google”.

Mark Brown [+1]
Feb 17 10 at 7:08 pm

Wow! So so proud and excited for you. This is awesome.

Yael Kropsky [+1]
Feb 17 10 at 8:26 pm

Awesome, thats great news gina! Congrats! :)

Many congratulations, Gina! Sounds like a perfect move for you!

Bill Turner [+2]
Feb 18 10 at 6:23 am

Congratulations Gina. What a wonderful opportunity and I couldn’t think of anyone better to help shape that endeavor.

Keith Crawford
Feb 18 10 at 11:08 pm

Great Tool Gina! Will try to convince my University to cloudsource student opinions on college life and higher ed in general.

Feb 28 10 at 7:45 am

I have a remark about the link which is made between getting feed back from netbook users and using the same process to get opinion about a policy.

One point about the netbook question and reply process is that those who replied most probably had a netbook with the real experience of it.

It was thus potentially very usefull to you who had not one and only could think about how it could be usefull.

but when it comes to extending that process to better choosing a policy I doubt that the extention process is valid just like that.

Let me give an example, imagine yourself in France in May-June 1940 you lead the french government, imagine your have twitter and all the french connected to it.
You want to know what could be the best policy for France.

You send a question using twitter.

You will receive 39 999 999 twits from the french saying we are lost, we have no issue but to surrender for ever.

You will receive 1 twit from 1 colonel, just promoted general, that has been constantly repeating that France needed tanks and was never believed though.

In his twit you can read that the war is not lost we should keep on fighting.

Now, here is my question :

As the French leader of government, you have witnessed the worst ever defeat of France, the whole country invaded in one month, where just before as a winner of Verdun and of world war I you thought, and the whole Europe with you, that your country was a great military power.

How can you possibly find out against the number of replies, and against your own way of thinking, and you have been a very clever person all your life, that the one twit which is right is the one by the general de Gaulle ?

I have another question, how do you rank replies according to their usefullness ?

Thibault [+8]
Apr 1 10 at 8:06 am

Comments are closed. Thanks for reading!