Stephen Baker

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IBM: Americans "Desire Ratio" on the rise

May 24, 2012Hop Skip Go

Dataminers at IBM have been burrowing through social media postings to see how Americans are feeling. Heading into Memorial Day weekend, it's sounding like the mood is improving. References to gas prices, which have been dropping of late, register postive by a five to one ratio, compared to an even balance a year ago. IBM has a new measurement--the "Desire Index"--which reflects the ratio of positive to negative comments about shopping and Memorial Day travel. These desires have rocketed up to 6.5/1 this year, from a downbeat 1.3/1 a year ago.

Now, as those of you who read The Numerati know, I've spent time talking to people who pull sentiments out of data. (The company I looked at then, Umbria Communications, was later bought by a unit of McGraw-Hill, the company I happened to be working for at the time.) Of course it's not an exact science. The machines miss sarcasm, like "Oh yeah, I'm thrilled to be driving this Memorial Day weekend with four screaming babies and my suicidal father in law...." Nonetheless, I'm sure Twitter and blogs provide a large enough sample to power past such small misunderstandings. The IBM team no doubt gets the big trends right.

Still, wondering what sort of happy talk the computer is interpreting on gas prices, I call up Twitter and search for "gas :)"

Well, it turns out, some are pretty clear.

:) I like the sound of that! RT : Weekend forecast: Hot(ter) temps, cheap(er) gas.

I think a computer even less sophisticated than Watson could draw a thumbs up from that post. But others are a little less clear:

RT : My boiler has been off for 3 days :) // middle finger up to the gas consumption

Officially has enough gas money to get to and from TX in October, now to save for food. :)

And then some of them require context on the part of the reader. A few years ago, gas near $3 per gallon would have brought forth exclamation points from outrage. Now, things appear to have changed:

RT : is at Exxon again and gas is $2.92 ! I'm omw !!!!! :)


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