Lexalytics, a company that analyzes the text of blog posts and other documents to determine their theme and tone, has just launched PoliticalTrends.info, a site that uses the technology to track political buzz in the blogosphere.
PoliticalTrends is intended to show off Lexalytics’s technology. It’s timely, given the upcoming Presidential primaries. However, its execution needs a lot of work. More on that later.
Crawling around 50 blogs related to politics, Lexalytics extracts recurring terms, analyzes the words around them to measure their sentiment (positive, negative or neutral), and creates a series of reports.
The company’s approach is similar to the products of “brand-awareness” analytics companies like Radian6, Buzzlogic, and Visible Technologies (see coverage here and here ), that use sophisticated algorithms to gauge the hot subjects and issues surrounding online discussions of brands or people. Unlike these other companies, however, Amherst, Mass-based Lexalytics doesn’t sell its service directly. Rather, its software allows other companies — including customer Cymfony, a market analytics company — to build such services themselves.
PoliticalTrends’ home page shows pie charts representing the top five Presidential candidates and political topics, in terms of the frequency they are being discussed. Further breakdowns for each candidate show volumes of coverage and proportion of positive, negative, and neutral sentiments represented within it.
You can also browse blog sentiment reports on specific issues like the economy, environment, foreign policy and immigration. Each of these have sub-topics, so within the reports on the environment, there are charts for sentiments on alternative energy and global warming, for example Clicking on a section of pie chart brings up a list of related posts. There are also graphs reflecting changes in sentiment over each day, and clicking on a data point will also show you the posts.
The company’s two founders each have about a decade of experience in the search and information classification field.
A free service that takes the temperature of the political blogosphere in real time has the potential to be immensely valuable, and the company should get credit for making headway here. Still, the site is early, and needs work. On the homepage, for example, you can see the “hottest themes.” The Bush administration is the number one theme, but the system only found 16 related posts (surely there are more), and it only gives you the title of the posts, and not the source blogs.
It is possible to see a list all the blogs Lexalytics crawls, but it shows off the limitations of the current system. Each blog has a “calculated blog lean,” which is supposed to tell you if the blog is pro-Democrat or pro-Republican, but for the majority of them, no data is shown. This is true even for Daily Kos, an unambiguously Democratic blog. Also, many influential sites, like Matt Yglesias’s blog , Talking Points Memo, the Volokh Conspiracy, Andrew Sullivan’s blog, and more are conspicuously absent. Of course, this part can easily be fixed, and it will be interesting to see what happens when it is.
The interface could use some polish, too. The graphs that show the trends in sentiment are hard to read, and you cannot adjust the metrics at all. The presentation is also somewhat inelegant.
These faults are probably tied to the fact that Lexalytics is a back-end software company and not a front-end service provider. The site (and its potential audience) would benefit greatly from the work of a few excellent web and interface designers.
Lexalytics is a self-funded company growing with its own revenues, which it says are tripling every year.
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