How marketers can monitor what 10 million bloggers are up to

How will marketers surf the blogs for customer feedback? Umbria is teaching computers to do it.
Stephen Baker

Mining blogs for marketing intelligence is all the rage. But how to do it? Howard Kaushansky of Umbria Communications dropped by this week to tell us how his Boulder, Colo., company does it. Umbria has analysed the language and syntax of thousands of blogs, and with that has devised an expert system that they say can analyse not only the opinions in the blogs, but also chart them by age and gender. So, clients such as Electronic Arts or Sprint can learn how their product launches or marketing campaigns are being received, day by day, by, say, teenaged boys or baby-boomer women. If Umbria can provide customer case studies, we'll blog a few.

Legions of grad students provide provide Umbria its raw material--blogs organized by age and gender. For $20 per hour, they go through blogs and categorize them. Given this raw material, the computer figures out what sets each demographic group apart.

I took a quick tour of the blogs and picked out three examples. My idea is to approximate what the software does, however primitively:

This one is pretty clearly a teenaged girl. An extract:

My dad woke me up early this morning. Sux. Anyway I miss my Alex sooo much and now I can't talk to him during the day b/c he's outta minutes and I dropped my phone in the toilet.

I just had to include that bit about the phone. Cracked me up. Anyway, presumably the software associates the following words with this age group (perhaps among others): sooo, sux, outta, b/c.

Next is a tech-minded young man, maybe a teenager.

I have a chatroom discussion on the discrepencies between episode III and episode IV that I dont wanna be late for. TTYL, remember to POAHF. NRN but you can EMSG. If you think were gonna F2F, GMAB I'll be LSHTTARDML because IMNSHO you suck.

Luckily for the computer, it doesn't have to understand all those acronyms in order to recognize them. There's a motherload in this post.

Here's a post from what I take to be a middle-aged woman:

The problem comes in thinking that somehow I can be on top of things, because there are always at least 20 things I am blowing off at any given moment. Better to start to enjoy the feeling of being at the center of uncertainty, permanently. If you grok the irony there.

I was a little surprised by the use of "grok," which I associate more with men. But that shows how much I know.

One more interesting point about this. What if that acronym-spouting second blogger is not a teenager at all, but a 45-year-old man who likes to write like a kid on blogs? No, the computer doesn't catch it. But it doesn't matter. Because from a marketer's point of view, if he's acting like a teenage, he might as well be one.
UPDATE: The woman I identified as middle-aged says she's younger. My apologies. Maybe Umbria's computer wouldn't have made that mistake. I also misspelled "discrepancy" on a version of this story that briefly escaped draft status yesterday.

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