Yes, But How Do You Feel? Sentiment Joins the Web Analytics Toolset

The New York Times examines sentiment analysis: An emerging field known as sentiment analysis is taking shape around one of the computer world’s unexplored frontiers: translating the vagaries of human emotion into hard data. This is more than just an…

The New York Times examines sentiment analysis:

An emerging field known as sentiment analysis is taking shape around one of the computer world’s unexplored frontiers: translating the vagaries of human emotion into hard data.

This is more than just an interesting programming exercise. For many businesses, online opinion has turned into a kind of virtual currency that can make or break a product in the marketplace.

Amy Martin briefly mentioned sentiment during her presentation at Twitter Boot Camp in June (the sentiment stuff is in slide No. 9). The concept caught my attention because it strays from typical number-centric measurements like page views, user-session times or velocity. For someone like me, who believes numbers and non-numerical “soft” analysis must exist in harmony, it injects a much-needed psychological component into the audience dynamic. This commingling of data and feelings is why NBC Local’s mood tool is so interesting.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves with the touchy feely business. Sentiment’s power as a data point is limited because it’s a loaded concept with infinite variations. If my “positive” could be your “neutral,” how can a measurement tool adequately capture sentiment on a broad, numerical level? It can’t. Not reliably, anyway. Wild swings and spikes will appear in graphs, but small percentage shifts between open-ended terms are too ambiguous to rely upon. That’s why sentiment needs to function as a general data point for online engagement. It’s a single tool on a big analytics workbench.