Clearly, Twitter and other social networking sites are changing the way that companies interact with and listen to customers, and now, that interaction has also turned into a business of its own! Yesterday the New York Times ran an interesting article about the “virtual currency” of online opinion, and takes a look at some of the early frontrunnrers in this emerging field unsentimentaly dubbed “sentiment analysis.” Companies such as Scout Labs in California and Jodange in Yonkers are powered by increasingly complex algorithms that serve to aggregate feelings, thoughts, and opinions as expressed by users of various online social networks, blogs, and other community web sites. The companies can then theoretically use this information to gain valuable insight into new marketing strategies or products (essentially free market research, replacing 20 random people in a room with 200,000 readers of a blog, say), or to better manage public relations, such as this spring when StubHub used data from Scout Labs to notice brewing discontent over its bad weather policy and was able to avoid any major backlash.
Of course, this all sounds nice until you hear that the accuracy of even the best of the companies’ algorithms are only “70-80% accurate” (as quoted in the Times piece). And as the article points out, “translating the slippery stuff of human language into binary values will always be an imperfect science.” I’m no moral philosopher, so I’m not looking to get into all that right now, but it seems like this article gets it right when it points out that this road may ultimately lead to a dangerous conflation of feeling and fact.
It’s almost like Chris and Thomas are commenting on the potential downsides to this “innovation” in their song “Take These Thoughts,” when they warn:
Take these thoughts /
They’re heavy and they’re old /
Don’t let ’em steal your soul
Chris (Anderson) and Thomas (Hien), a folk duo in the vein of Simon and Garfunkel, met in Liverpool at the same art school where another pretty famous pair first got to know each other (although come on, the comparison is QUITE a stretch, Ms. Dunham, no matter what their PR peeps told you). Their first full album, Land of Sea, generated a lot of interest in the group, and I’m sure that comparisons to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young have helped almost as much as the major success of last year’s Fleet Foxes record, which sounds awfully similar to these guys at times. They don’t seem to have any tour dates up on their myspace or official website, so for now, I guess you’ll have to settle for this video.
Chris and Thomas – Take These Thoughts:
P.S. Happy Birthdays, Moms!