Friday, September 30, 2005

Blog Readership, RSS Increasing, Forrester Reports

Ten percent of consumers read blogs once a week or more, said Forrester Research at the opening of its annual Consumer Forum. (You and I are still in the minority, but the tent is getting bigger.)

Automated Sentiment Detection

I've been doing some research to understand the state-of-the-art of automated sentiment detection. This natural language processing technology is still pretty young and from what I'm sensing no one's really commercialized anything that delivers high-quality results yet. There are a few players out there (you know who you are) who have products in this area, but it's tricky stuff.

Sarcasm, irony, double negatives all wreak havoc with automated detection.

Much of this work is still at the university level and the papers published in the area focus on trying to detect the opinions of authors in movie reviews, hotel ratings, etc. The recent interest in monitoring blogs is spurring more discussion in the commercial space.

So it's not too surprising that the industry hasn't settled on terminology yet either. I've seen a host of words being used to describe this process of assigning a positive or negative score to an article -- tone, tonality, polarity, affect, sentiment, favorability (or favourability, if you're in the UK), opinion, mood. I generally use the term sentiment because it's had the most pickup.

There are also different types of sentiment assignments. We can talk about it from the perspective of the author or the perspective of the consumer of the information. For example, a hurricane can be written about as a negative event. However, to the construction industry it's a positive event because it means the beginning of a rebuilding boom. It's not clear to me which terms should be used to describe these different perspectives. Is "sentiment" the view of the author and "favorability" the view of the reader? Not sure.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

European Blogosphere

Well-known French blogger Loic Le Meur has on his wiki an attempt to attach some metrics to the oft-disputed size of the Blogosphere. He's focusing on the European Blogosphere, gathering numbers per country, listing top blog hosting sites and key bloggers per country. This is a very important resource as we try to get our hands around the growth of this social phenomena around the world.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Causes of Content Chaos: Everyone's a Publisher

I talked at Factiva Forum about a few causes of the content chaos we all find ourselves awash in: (Everyone's a Publisher, "Markets are Conversations", The continued movement toward more dynamic news cycles).

I think those of us out here in the Blogosphere are pretty comfortable with the idea that the growth of blogs has created a world where "everyone's a publisher." I'm not a journalist but I can publish my thoughts just as my colleagues upstairs at The Wall Street Journal can. (Factiva is owned by Dow Jones and Reuters and we share some real estate with our parents.) Certainly, not nearly as many people are going to read what I have to say about technology as, say, Walt Mossberg, but in the collective bloggers are becoming a force. Our opinions are being read by others and in the 500-channel world each channel takes up equal space on the dial.

Studies have shown (that's a great phrase when you don't have real metrics) that people are more likely to trust their peers for an opinion than someone in authority (government, corporations, the media.)

So as bloggers become more of a driver of opinion and more of us become bloggers, corporations and governments had better keep watch.

Blog Numbers Likely Inflated by Spam

We keep hearing about the size of the Blogosphere increasing like crazy. Technorati talks about it doubling every five months. However, what's not being said by all the bloggers who are blogging about blogging is that a growing number of these blogs are spam.

We've heard from a company which processes a large number of blog posts that about a quarter of the posts they see are spam.

Have you ever clicked the "next blog" link at the top of this page (and most other Blogger blogs). How many of the blogs you come to are for online casinos or inkjet cartridges. It's really quite amazing how much spam has moved into the Blogosphere in the past few months (my observation, not based on any particular metrics).

I think it would be great if the main players in the industry -- GYM, Techorati, Intelliseek, Six Apart , etc. -- put their virtual heads together to find ways to systematically slow down the wave of spam before we're up to our eyeballs in it. Blogger's flagging (to allow individuals to notify Blogger about objectionable content) seems like a good idea. But it remains to be seen how well it works.

I Think Factiva Matters, Too

Wonderful to read today that Barry Graubart, EVP & Chief Marketing Officer for Leadership Directories, has added Factiva to his list of one of the 50 content companies that matter -- joining the likes of Google, Yahoo! and Wikipedia.

I must agree, (but that's why I come to work every day).

Friday, September 23, 2005

Seth Godin

The keynote speaker at Forum was Seth Godin, an author of several books on the "new" marketing, including Purple Cow. He spoke about one of the main reasons people buy -- because it makes them feel good. This isn't revolutionary. We all know Hummer's are expensive because people are willing to pay a lot to show off their status. And people buy iPods not because they make your digital music sound better, but because they're so darn cool (which they are).

So, it's hard to disagree with him and he's very compelling because he's such a wonderful public speaker. But I think of bit of what he said is overstated. I'm not sure B2B is the same as B2C in this regard, though he said he thinks it is.

Sure, no one ever got fired by buying IBM. And sure, your CEO will listen to you more if you have a consulting report from McKinsey & Co. than from Mike McKinsey LLC (even if both recommend the same thing) so I understand his point there. But I still think that emotional buying is MOSTLY in the realm of consumer products, not multimillion dollar server farms or jet engine parts.

Factiva Forum Part 2

In my Content Chaos presentation at Factiva Forum, I talked about what I see as the causes of the swirling mess of content we find ourselves in. I agree with something Bill Gates said recently: we're no longer faced with long-discussed problem of "information overload" (having too much information that's too difficult to manage) but we're really in a position of not having an easy way to get to the RIGHT information when we need it. Gates goes so far as to say we don't have enough information.

GYM (Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft) has gone a long way in providing us with pretty relevant documents on the first page, but better Web search is only part of the answer. There is plenty of information burried on pages 2 through N that we never see. We have to find ways to get that information into the path of our research.

So companies in the information industry are trying to help their clients get to the answers, not provide them with documents. I mean, no one is really running a search so they can find documents. They're running a search, so they can find answers. Moving technology forward so it can get people closer to the answers is our focus.

We see text mining as a big part of that solution.

I also talked about a few causes of this content chaos.
•Blogs Mean Everyone’s a Publisher
•‘Markets are Conversations’
•More dynamic news cycles

I'll write more on this soon.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Factiva Forum

(Actually, nothing particularly funny happened, but I really wanted to use that pun. )

I was honored to be asked to speak yesterday at Factiva Forum, an executive conference event held high over Times Square, in the Reuters building. This year's NY version of Forum focused on the ever-quickening pace of news and business information and focused on some of the drivers of it -- the growth of business-oriented blogs, RSS feeds, etc.

I spoke on a panel discussing reputation management. I was asked to talk about one of Factiva's products, Factiva Insight: Reputation Intelligence.

I've been involved in the development of this product over the past few years (starting with our relationship with IBM's WebFountain and through our purchase of a company called 2B) and so I'm a bit biased when I say Factiva's is one of the most comprehensive approaches available today for companies to follow their reputational issues -- how they're being covered in the MSM, what people are saying about them on blogs and boards and the differences between the two.

Also on the panel with me were John Neeson, the co-founder of Sirius Decisions and Judi Frost Mackey, the Director of U.S. Corporate & Financial Practice at Hill & Knowlton.

John talked about the results of some studies they've been conducting in this space. Judi presented a real-world example of how a client of theirs (some retailer from Bentonville, Arkansas, I believe) has attempted to revive their sagging public image through a recent media blitz.

I also presented on the subject of "Content Chaos" (see my next post.)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Text Mining is a Service with Many Uses

We've been talking around Factiva about how text mining (i.e. extracting meaning from unstructured text) can benefit varied business use-cases. There are lots of great ideas swirling about and it's not entirely clear where it will land. But this much is clear to me, text mining has to be part of the future of information retrieval.

But text mining is a service or a process, not a product, so we aren't marketing "Factiva Text Mining" but we are going to look for ways to fold it into products.

Factiva has developed text mining capabilities and built products for media measuring and reputation management. But searching and alerting can benefit too from the philosophy of text mining.

(An aside: Wikipedia needs a better entry for text mining. Volunteers?)

Corporate Blogging Survey

For those interested in corporate blogging, the results of a survey have been posted by a Boston-based, internet-marketing company called Backbone Media. Here's some of what it found.

"The survey respondents indicated that they believe there is a broad array of benefits to starting a blog including: quick publishing, thought leadership, building community, sales and online PR."

"The biggest concern about starting a blog was the time needed to devote to the blog; the next concern was legal liability. A slight majority of bloggers took less than 1-2 months to start their blog after initial management review. ... Once they started, bloggers saw immediate results from publishing content & ideas quickly. Search engine rankings & links results appeared before sales. Overall, thought leadership and idea sharing were the biggest benefi ts for bloggers."

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Blogsearch from Google -- Finally

So, Google's new Blog Search beta is pretty good. I've seen some spam on the first page of results, but not too bad. And the "related blogs" are not quite there yet, though that will, no doubt, improve.

But the surprising thing about Google's blog search, to me, is that it's taken them so long to launch it. Those who like to search blogs have been waiting for it, but Google, until now, has offered no real way to search them because a blog's update cycle is so much shorter than general search engines are tuned for.

For now, Technorati and Intelliseek still have an edge in blog search, but they've got to be looking in their rear-view mirror at the speeding bullet coming up behind them wondering how they're going to keep that lead. Innovate and specialize, guys!

Good to see Dave Sifry, Techorati CEO, is taking a "bring it on" attitude.

(BTW, should I read anything into the fact that Blogger's spell-check suggestion for "technorati" is "degenerate"?)

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Factiva Forum

I will be speaking at the next Factiva Forum, Sept. 22, in New York on what the information professionals need to know about text mining and visualization. It will be a primer but will also go into how these technologies may be impacting their roles in the enterprise. I'll post more as we get closer to the date.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Scoble on Corporate Blogging

Here's an interesting interview with Microsoft's Robert Scoble on corporate blogging. I came across it when I was researching growth of French blogs. He was interviewed by Loic Le Meur, who runs a pretty well-read French blog. This is his first interview in English.

Scoble talks about why blogging is very important for those in product development and design -- including that how it allows clients to interact directly with product managers, not indirectly with customer service. He also says that it's vital for companies to be involved in the conversation and be monitoring the conversation because otherwise the story's going to pass you by.

Scoble might be seen as one of the most influential people at Microsoft (if not one of the 10 most well known). Yet he comments in this interview that he's seven levels down from Bill Gates in the corporate hierarchy. Now that's a statement of how empowering blogs can be.

Business Blogs as Next Growth Area

Business blogs -- whether published by an individual talking about her profession or a company talking about its products -- continue to grow in importance as more people start thinking about blogs for things other than politics, culture and journals.

Publishing has always been a way for academics to distiguish themselves among their colleagues. Maybe now we're seeing an easy way for the business world to do something similiar. Of course there are many differences between the two. In academia, your reputation is probably more closely tied to your published works. Your career might depend on whether your papers are seen as well researched or hogwash. Blogs are going to foster the publishing of quick commentary, not the reasoned research. But nonetheless, blogs do offer the ability for those in business to establish themselves as thought leaders.

David Scott talks about how the
corporate blog is emerging in 2005 as a growth area. I see corporate blogs currently as a small segment of business blogs. Corporate blogs are likely extensions of the PR department or the CEO's office. They can be useful ways for a company to get their messages out in a folksy manner. But they can also be seen as shameless shilling.
A corporate blog will work will if it addresses some esoteric interests of a company's products or if it furthers a certain image the company is trying to portray, like
Stonyfield Farms.

But beware -- bloggers and (likely) readers of the Blogosphere are savvy. A marketing web site that tries to masqurade as a corporate blog will turn people off quickly. Remember the McDonald's Lincoln Fry blog? It was a superbowl ad campaign that McDonald's tried to foster with a fake blog purported to be written by someone who found a french Fry in the shape of Abe Lincoln. Uh huh. McDonald's said the blog helped the campaign last a little longer in the minds of the public. I doubt it did. I think it just made the company lose cred in the Blogosphere. Did they really think they were going to pull some sort of Blair Witch?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Travel Boards Should Monitor the Blogosphere

I got a call last week at home from a marketing company doing research. My guess, after going through the questions, is that it was commissioned by the Maine Department of Travel and Tourism and that they are working on a new slogan to attract people to vacation in Maine. They asked me to describe Maine and the other states in the area with adjectives. Then they read various slogans to me to get my reaction. It seems they were looking for keywords that would attract people to Maine (rocky coast, forests, kayaking, stargazing? etc.)

It struck me that travel boards would benefit from tools that can monitor the Blogosphere to see what words people are using to describe their vacations.

(It also strikes me that Maine does need a new slogan. "It must be Maine"? What the heck does that mean.)

Spam, Spam, Spam

Well, you know the Blogosphere has established itself as something more than a playtoy for geeks (not that you needed convincing). Spam is here.

Spam blogs and fake blogs are starting to spread as rogue merchants try to boost their rankings in traditional search engines and in blog search engines. By creating lots of blogs that link to each other, they are trying to make their blogs seem influential.

Nothing new here. They're using the exact same tactics they used when they created farms of fake Web sites. And, let's face it, blogs are just Web sites.

What this means is that the leading aggregators in the Blogosphere -- Intelliseek, Technorati and others -- are starting to put measures in place to spot the fakes. Dave Sifry of Technorati wrote an oft-sited post.

As the aggregators start to catch the fakes, the fakers will try to out-fake them. The cat-and-mouse game begins

Factiva Insight shows new discussions about Apple phone

I found out about big news afoot at Apple last week after I logged into the Factiva Insight: Reputation Intelligence product. The system discovered new words popping up around Apple -- such phrases as "cingular wireless, special event, mobile phone" -- as rumors about a coming iPod phone swept the Web. This is a good example of how the product can be used to find new discussions taking place.