Sentiment Analysis on the Cutting Edge


One of the much-vaunted benefits of text and social network analytics is the ability to determine how people feel. Whether by assigning weights to positive and negative terms, scanning for smiley emoticons, or using facial-recognition algorithms, sentiment analysis is garnering plenty of attention.

In fact, it's going to be the main focus of a two-day conference this week in New York. The Sentiment Analysis Symposium kicks off Wednesday with half-day workshops on technical and business tracks, and it continues Thursday with a packed agenda of speakers and topics.

As we've discussed here, many sentiment analysis efforts combine human intelligence with machine learning to train algorithms and improve their accuracy. Jason Baldridge, an associate professor of linguistics at the University of Texas, will cover this in his "Practical Sentiment Analysis" tutorial Wednesday. In the description, he says today's technology can take efforts beyond traditional "opinion mining" and unlock more insight from semi-supervised learning and nontextual information like social networks, sensor feeds, audio, and video.

Thursday's schedule involves a rapid-fire succession of short talks. I'm hoping to attend the afternoon sessions, at the very least. Here are some topics in which I'm especially interested:

  • MIT Media Lab professor Rosalind Picard will discuss the latest in facial recognition machine learning, which, she says, has become "highly accurate" at differentiating between frustrated and delighted smiles.

  • University of Maryland professor VS Subrahmanian will talk about "Forecasting the Spread of Sentiments and Emotion in Social Media." In the course description, he says anger and fear can be traced via Facebook and Twitter to the benefit of retailers, online services, and politicians. "In this talk, we will use a major forthcoming international election as a colorful case study of how to track sentiment and emotion on any given topic, make forecasts about how far those sentiments and emotions will spread, and suggest ways in which to maximally influence the outcome to be consistent with the needs of client." This talk about influencing outcomes is reminiscent of the social physics theories put forth by MIT data scientist Alex Pentland. It seems awfully sinister, but maybe it's just good old marketing and public relations, with a little more data thrown in.

  • Dell's Shree Dandekar will talk about using enhanced text analytics to generate "social ROI" in real-time. This session is scheduled for just 10 minutes, so I'm hoping it will blow my mind.

  • Yuval Mor, CEO of Beyond Verbal, will talk about analyzing vocal intonation to determine emotion. In his course description, he discusses implications for machine interfaces that understand how humans feel, and he promises to share best-practices for incorporating emotion detection into voice solutions.

These kinds of cutting-edge applications seem almost like the stuff of science fiction. Can I program my phone to screen out angry callers? Can I craft a message that's guaranteed to sway people's emotions? How far out are these innovations? I'm hoping to get the answers this week.

Members, are any of you going to the conference? What do you think about sentiment analysis?

— Michael Steinhart, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn pageFriend me on Facebook, Executive Editor, AllAnalytics.com

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Michael Steinhart, Contributing Editor

Michael Steinhart has been covering IT and business computing for 15 years, tracking the rising popularity of virtualization, unified fabric, high-performance computing, and cloud infrastructures. He is editor of The Enterprise Cloud Site, which won the Least Imaginative Site Name award in 2012, and he managed TheITPro.com, a community of IT professionals taking their first steps into cloud computing. From 2006 to 2012, Steinhart worked as an executive editor at Ziff Davis Enterprise, writing and managing research reports, whitepapers, case studies, magazine features, e-newsletters, blog posts, online videos, and podcasts. He also moderated and presented in dozens of webinars and virtual tradeshows. He got his start in IT journalism at CMP Media back in 1998, then moved to PC Magazine, managing the popular Solutions section and then covering business technology and consumer software. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications/journalism from Ramapo College of New Jersey.

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Re: A fortune in the making
  • 3/22/2014 10:13:51 AM
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@Beth Like we marketers always say, it depends on the market. If your market is the type to express themselves on Twitter, the study should be done there; if not, then we'll go where the market is more expressive of their emotions. For the sake of ease, though, I think analysis that relies on publicly-available data will be more ideal.

Re: A fortune in the making
  • 3/14/2014 1:58:59 PM
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@magneticnorth, thanks for sharing your perspective as a marketer. So when you think about sentiment analysis and the value it could provide in helping marketers evaluate and execute branding campaigns on profitability, are you thinking in terms of what's being said on social networks or in survey verbatim responses, or in focus groups, call center records, and so on? In other words, what do you consider the best source to mine for customer sentiment?

Re: A fortune in the making
  • 3/13/2014 8:09:05 PM
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Marketers might pay a pretty penny to be able to forecast with high reliability how a few well-placed sentiments might spread!

As a marketer, Beth, I can tell you that many of my colleagues will happily put this type of research in their budget (assuming it's fairly reliable, of course). But personally, the value I see in this technology is primarily in its ability to quantify a number of variables involved in branding. I remember a professor of mine saying that "perceived value" is the only brand attribute that's been proven to contribute to sales. There are many others—e.g. brand relationship, emotional loyalty—that we intuitively know are contributors to the bottom line, but they're just too hard to measure. I think sentiment analysis will finally allow marketers to execute and evaluate branding campaigns based on profitability, whether in the short or long run.

Re: A fortune in the making
  • 3/7/2014 11:24:03 AM
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That seems to be the standard MO for politicians everywhere, Seth. Sometimes the diversion of attention and topic is subtle, but often it's appallingly blatant. Software like that of Beyond Verbal or Emotient, though, should be able to detect this kind of obfuscation.

Re: A fortune in the making
  • 3/6/2014 6:09:22 PM
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@ Beth, politicians pay good money for speech writers.  It is in the interviews when they are caught off guard that the truth comes out.  Especially when they refuse to answer a question, but keep smiling. 

I was once told by a reporter was that it wasn't important what question you were asked but rather what answer you gave.  That way someone flipping through the channel only hears what you wanted them to hear. 

Re: Sentiment Symposium 2014
  • 3/6/2014 5:18:49 PM
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It's been an action-packed afternoon -- I'm going to start packing up now and blog about some of the things I've seen and heard today! Thanks for following!

Re: Sentiment Symposium 2014
  • 3/6/2014 5:17:38 PM
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Fascinating analyses of Super Bowl ads and temporal reactions to different portions of ads.

"It enables a fine-grained temporal analysis that would be much harder to do with human annotators."

 

Re: Sentiment Symposium 2014
  • 3/6/2014 5:07:03 PM
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Emotient - measuring emotions via facial expression:

Microexpressions - joy - anger - disgust - contempt (snort) -

Engagement level of a student during a class - high correlation with test results.

 

 

Re: Sentiment Symposium 2014
  • 3/6/2014 5:01:57 PM
NO RATINGS

Now I'm listening to Jacob Whitehill of Emotient - SD-based startup to commercialize computer vision/behavioral science/facial expression recognition.

Re: Sentiment Symposium 2014
  • 3/6/2014 4:56:33 PM
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Let machines understand our emotions based on our vocal intonations, and get a better understanding of our own selves. Tutoring, dating, TV, product recommendations, you name it.

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