It took time for Netbase to find its current focus. Its first products were tools that allowed experts in a field to perform fine-grained searches within specific subject areas. NetBase has a major partnership with publisher Reed Elsevier, for example, to crawl and categorize its archives of journal articles in order to make them easy to search from a variety of angles.
The new consumer marketing product was born at the request of consumer products giant Procter & Gamble, which already used Netbase for its scientists. In late 2008, the head of P&G’s market research division asked if the company could adapt its platform to allow fine-grained searches of the data being posted about brands online. Netbase complied, working with an advisory council of customers, including P&G and Coca-Cola, to factor in all the ways the companies wanted to be able to slice and dice their data.
Today, Spier says, consumer marketing has become Netbase’s leading product. The company has acquired 50 new customers in the past 90 days, he says, and is processing more than 50,000 sentences a minute.
Other companies working on tools for mood mining include Viralheat, a startup based in San Jose, California, and Jodange, based in Yonkers, New York.
As the tools proliferate, the companies developing them must make them part of a broader package if they are to appeal to businesses, says Ed Chi, area manager for the Palo Alto Research Center’s Augmented Social Cognition team. Chi’s group has been researching the technologies that businesses need to analyze and respond to social media effectively, including tools that classify topics being discussed online, perform sentiment analysis, suggest possible responses, and analyze a company’s message to determine how likely it is to go viral.
Spier believes companies can satisfy their customers by putting data in context. “What’s needed are systems that can view the world through many lenses, with the kind of accuracy businesses really need to make decisions,” he says.
Netbase’s dashboard provides context by automatically surfacing terms that make for interesting comparisons. For example, Spier says, it may not be all that interesting to know that response to the iPhone 4 is positive. More interesting is whether it’s positive when compared with attitudes toward the Motorola Droid, the HTC Evo, or the Samsung Epic.
Netbase lets users choose what terms to compare as well as offering automatic suggestions. And its metrics go beyond simple positive and negative. For example, its passion index tries to determine how powerful sentiments are for consumers. Spier says that Netbase has found that a product will sometimes pop out on the passion index while it gets lost on simpler measures. What’s more, he says that the loyal, engaged responses that indicate passion do not typically correlate with the amount of buzz around a product.
Since these tools are so new, it remains to be seen whether any approach will provide the vision that brands are looking for–but these startups are betting that mood mining is here to stay.
“For 40 years now, the tech industry has been digitizing everything in sight,” Spier says. “The next 40 years, businesses will be focused on how to make sense of all that information.”