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Status updates, limited as they are in character space, can make up an intriguing barometer for the public’s mood if they’re taken as a whole.
That’s just what Facebook is doing, engaging in some basic sentiment analysis by looking at the share of positive and negative words in status updates across English-speaking, U.S. users. They’ve launched a Gross National Happiness index. (That’s inspired by the gross national happiness metric from the Bhutanese government, which criticized traditional measures of national well-being like gross domestic product.)
Facebook’s program looks for positive words like “happy,” “yay” and “awesome,” and negative, or unhappy words, include “sad,” “doubt” and “tragic.” Some not-too-surprising findings: Its gross national happiness index spikes on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Barack Obama’s election was more than twice as happy as the average Wednesday.
There are a few independent projects like Twendz and Tweetfeel that are exploring the same concept with Twitter. Two Vermont statisticians are harnessing tweets to create a “hedonimeter” that will be released soon at onehappybird.com. Others are exploring building businesses around sentiment analysis — particularly for companies that want to know how the public thinks about their brand in real-time. Pepsi, in fact, does this by collecting tweets mentioning the brand and tracking sentiment changes week by week.
VentureBeat’s VB Insight team is studying email marketing tools.
Chime in here, and we’ll share the results