I am important! Or rather; some bloggers are important. Or better still; some advertisers, marketeers and PR-officers consider blogs to be an important channel to communicate with and through. High-profile blogs (which this one is not by any measure) can indeed be instrumental in launching geeky products, kick-starting viral campaigns and in some cases even influencing the public debate. But what you can’t measure doesn’t exist and that’s where buzz tracking tools such as the one from Brussels-based Attentio comes into play.
Attentio spiders blogs, forums and news-sites and indexes all that content in what must be a super-sized database. In front of that database sits a data-mining application annex website, which allows communication-pro’s to follow-up on the positive and negative buzz around their products, product features and competitors on the “Brand dashboard” in real-time.
As straight-forward as this may seem, collecting all that content, filtering out the garbage (e.g. splogs and NSFW-content) and creating a blazingly-fast web-based application to publish these reports on-the-fly is quite a feat. The demo I got last week during the Emakina/Reference Academy by Amaia Lasa and Kalina Lipinska was impressive enough to make me want to try the application myself in between sessions. Attentio’s Linda Margaret patiently “tomtommed” me through the interface (thanks Linda!), giving me a better overview of all the available graphs and screens. All in all an impressive product with a lot of potential, especially for multinationals that have a lot of blog-visibility.
A lot of potential? Yes, because there is room for improvement (isn’t there always?). Attentio is great for buzz-quantification, for showing how many blogs discuss your products, but I had the impression that reports that try to extract more then these “simple” quantifications, were still rough around the edges. This seems largely due to what is the basic building block of a blog; language.
There is, for example, a report which allows you to see buzz per region or country. For this qualification the domain-name and/or geo-location of the IP-address are used. But as anyone can choose a TLD of their liking (lvb.net and blog.zog.org to name but two Flemish A-list bloggers) and as hosting abroad is no exception (lvb.net is hosted in the USA and this blog is on a server in Germany), a considerable amount of blogs in the reports I saw were not attributed to a country or region, but were instead classified by their language (Dutch/ French) in the same graph. Attentio intends to use information disclosed in the blog content itself to better pinpoint location.
Extracting non-quantitative information from blogs, forums and news-sites requires techniques from the fields of computational linguistics and artificial intelligence. One of the most exiting reports in the Brand Dashboard is the “sentiments”-report, which tries to categorize buzz as positive, neutral or negative. Up until now this is done using hard-coded rules which only allow content in English to be qualified (hence my writing this post in English, curious if this rings a bell on their own Brand Dashboard). Indeed Attentio is working at this, as witnessed by the description of the specialties of the smart Attentionistas on their “company info” page. They disclosed they’re working with the K.U. Leuven on new AI-based classification software (using Bayesian text classification one would suspect) which will be released into production later this year. I’m pretty sure this new software could be used for more then just extracting the “sentiment” of a blogpost, so I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on what these smart boys and girls are doing!
For those of you who would like to create some buzz-tracker graphs, Attentio offers basic functionality for free on http://www.trendpedia.com. Happy tracking!