Sentiment Analysis Symposium

You don’t have to be an expert to understand that what people feel is as important as what they think — and more important than what they say they think. The reality is that emotions, opinions and attitudes are universal, continual and potentially beneficial for organizations with the technology and solutions to understand them.

Just this week, feelings came to the forefront at the Sentiment Analysis Symposium in New York City. The two-day event began Wednesday with a half-day of workshops on technical and business topics and continued Thursday with a full agenda of speakers.

I bet you're already wondering: "What was the sentiment around the Sentiment Analysis Symposium?" And I plan to answer that question. But let's start at the beginning.

Setting the Stage

The conference was organized by Seth Grimes, who specializes in strategic IT analysis, architecture and planning with a focus on business intelligence (BI) and text analytics. Grimes consults for the Washington, DC-based Alta Plana Corp., organizes the Sentiment Analysis Symposium and writes for several publications, including CMSWire.

Held at the Academy of Sciences at 7 World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, it attracted a good crowd.

As I explained in my Social Media Week (SMW) post recently, I’m no newbie to analytics. And just like SMW, I'm a veteran of the Sentiment Analysis Symposium. I've attended at least four before this one and spoke at the first one in 2010.

In the past year, Sentiment Analysis has gone a little more mainstream, partly thanks to online security concerns resulting from disclosures by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden. So I was especially interested in attending the symposium this year.

Sentiment Analysis 101

Jason Baldridge, associate professor of linguistics at University of Texas and co-founder of People Pattern, presented a three-hour class on Practical Sentiment Analysis. It introduced the concepts of sentiment analysis and opinion mining from unstructured text, looking at why they are useful and what tools and techniques are available.

It was designed for advanced users, developers and consultants. While I was familiar with most of what Baldridge presented, I was intrigued by what he shared about specific algorithms to run as well as information on public datasets that can be used to test the algorithms for sentiment accuracy.

What becomes apparent is that many linguists also program their own sentiment analysis programs. One thing Baldridge pointed out is that sentiment analysis algorithms need to be trained against the specific channels (such as Twitter) to be the most effective.

In My Humble Opinion

To be honest, the efficacy of automated sentiment analysis only seems to me to be somewhat better than a flip of the coin. Baldridge agreed sentiment programs should deliver better results than a panel of humans who are asked to vote on a question. 

I've always believed linguists inflated the value of automated sentiment analysis and that, in reality, the accuracy and relevancy of the results are much lower than what we would expect based on the published "accuracy levels" for these things.

What About Customer Experiences?

I enjoyed a session by Steve Ramirez, chief executive officer of Berkeley, Calif.-based Beyond the Arc, a management consulting firm that helps financial institutions transform their customer experiences.

I appreciated how interesting Ramirez made material that could easily have become dry during a discussion about common use cases for analytics.

The biggest takeaway: Learn who your customers actually are and what they actually care about.

I walked in during the middle of the Visionaries Panel, led by consultant Stephen D. Rappaport. It featured consultant Jasme Bantens, who has over 15 years of advertising agency experience, Bradley Honan, CEO of KRC Research, and Augie Ray, director of social media strategy at Amex. The focus was on the fatigue many businesses now have with new business metrics that various vendors are developing around social. My feeling is that most businesses are interested in sentiment analysis but not necessarily from social media.

Marie Wallace, an analytics strategist for IBM, talked about Engagement: The Unspoken Connection. She focused entirely on the customer experience rather than specific metrics. In fact, most of the speakers at the conference expressed the opinion that we worry too much about metrics and too little about business results.

The bottom line is this: vendors in this sentiment space need to be able to work on client problems and show business results to get to the next level. Talking just about new features and new metrics doesn’t cut it for most of the companies and brands that were present.

Just Show Me

Yuval Mor, CEO of Beyond Verbal, discussed sentiment around online videos in a session called Let's Get Emotional: Emotions in Speech. It was a novel topic at the Sentiment Symposium, at least for me. Other speakers made similar presentations around audio conversations, iPhone conversations and, of course, facial expressions. Interest in all of these topics seems very promising for the future of sentiment analysis and the Symposium.

Back to the Question

So what was the sentiment surrounding the Sentiment Analysis Symposium?Not much, really.

sentiment from symposiumGeofeedia, Tweet about Sentiment Analysis Symposium taking place at the Symposium from @augieray

I used tools such as Netbase to find the emotions behind media, since a conference in reality is just another form of media if you stop to think about it. I wasn’t able to find much in the way of sentiment at all, and much of the material at Sentiment Analysis Symposium is very niche. That means its not going to be understood or appeal to the larger Internet audience. At least not today. For the future, who knows?

But here is my prediction, colored by my own sentiments: As we continue to learn more about online privacy and metadata, conferences like the Sentiment Analysis Symposium, with a direct emphasis on the measurement of human feelings, are sure to become more and more popular.