As the South by Southwest Interactive conference winds down, the tech-loving attendees are still talking about it on Twitter. This year, enterprise crowdsourcing platform CrowdFlower launched a sentiment analysis project that relied on manpower, not computer analytics, to gauge the mood of the crowd.
“Unlike most sentiment analysis services, which are fully automated,” a CrowdFlower representative told Social Times, “CrowdFlower’s program is human-driven, so that tweets are read and judged by people who can discern subtleties of intent and meaning that computers still can’t.”
Days before CrowdFlower CEO Lukas Biewald joined Kaggle‘s Anthony Goldbloom on stage for a talk on the virtual workforce, his own virtual workers were already reading through related hashtags on Twitter to figure out what the conversations were really about and whether the chatter was positive or negative.
An early analysis of 1,000 tweets revealed that most visitors were pretty positive about going to the conference, but that 30 percent of them were more excited about hearing music than learning about the latest developments in technology. CrowdFlower blogger Wagner James Au said that when tweets reflect more mainstream interests, like music, it’s a clear sign that social media has caught on outside the tech community.
Ray Kurzweil’s keynote address on Monday proved the usefulness of human analytics in understanding abstract concepts. While the futurist’s predictions might have had a lot to do with technology, even he said that humans wouldn’t accept computers as being human until they seemed that way.
It took hundreds of crowdsourced workers to read through 1,188 tweets. Within a couple of hours, the workers had sorted the tweets into pre-selected categories:
It’s about expanding our intelligence or IQ
It’s about Ray Kurzweil’s current projects
It’s about the singularity
It’s about artificial intelligence
It’s about life extension
It’s about Ray Kurzweil’s thoughts and predictions on the future
It’s about virtual reality
It’s about Transhumanism
It’s about nanotechnology
It’s about leaving his SXSW talk
It’s about SOMETHING ELSE (Other)
“Interestingly,” wrote Au, “though Kurzweil’s talk was entitled ‘Expanding Our Intelligence Without Limit’,” only a fraction of Tweets were related to that theme.” Most people focused on artificial intelligence and other topics.
As for the tone of the tweets, 38 percent of the tweets were neutral, 32 percent were positive, and 30 percent were deemed negative.
Live events are unpredictable, and so are reactions from the crowd. A similar thing happened when Rainn Wilson, star of “The Office,” gave his keynote speech on March 9. Although the actor spoke primarily of his new philosophy website, SoulPancake, only 8 percent of the tweets were on this topic. The highest number of tweets – 30 percent – were related to social media. This may have been in response to Wilson’s riff on Twitter and outdated social media sites like Friendster. Wilson also smashed a guitar onstage, which was definitely not mentioned in the program ahead of time.
While the majority of those tweets were positive or neutral, a surprising 42 percent of tweeters had a negative response to the popular speaker. (CNN writer Brandon Griggs came to the same conclusion, noting that many audience members left the room when Wilson stopped telling jokes.)
CrowdFlower has done sentiment analysis work for eBay, Yahoo!, and even Twitter. Founded in 2007, the San Francisco-based company has a pool of 2.5 million contributors all over the world (updated from 1.5 million) who can be quickly tapped for simple tasks like updating business listings online. The company is backed by Trinity Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, Harmony Partners, Founder’s Fund and other investors.
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