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Bing And Facebook Start Down A Very Frightening Social Media Analytics Path

Written by Evan Schuman
May 18th, 2011

Finding and analyzing the collective thoughts in all the conversations happening in social media today has been a retail goal for several years now. Not coincidentally, that’s exactly how long retail has failed in doing anything meaningful with that data. This week, though, an ISV and Microsoft’s Bing search engine are at least making noises as though they are making a little progress.

Bing on Monday (May 16) said it is working with Facebook to use a small portion of those social site discussions—limited to the ones on Facebook and further limited to the people in the friends list of that Web searcher—to help provide more valuable results to consumers.

“The best decisions are not just fueled by facts, they require the opinions and emotions of your friends,” said Yusuf Mehdi, senior vice president at Bing. “Search is now more than a fact finder. We’re marrying fact-based search results with your friends’ street smarts to combine the best data on the Web with the opinions of the people you trust the most and the collective IQ of the Web.”

The idea of aggregating the shopping and other experiences of a closed community is a good one, with lots of potential to boost the meaningfulness of such results.

There’s also a downside with this aggregation approach, namely that most consumers trust different friends to very different degrees. A single datapoint crafted from the combined actions of 50 people you absolutely trust and 50 people you personally know are dumber than a rock is likely to be no more valuable than the non-socially-aided original Bing results.

Then again, that’s a mathematically correct conclusion. Will a socially fueled engine strike most consumers as more valuable, even if it isn’t? And if it does strike them that way, will it make them more comfortable with purchasing whatever the groupthink recommends? It’s long been said that the real enemy of sales is not a competitor’s offering as much as the customer opting to make no purchase at all, often because the customer is confused or uncertain. It certainly seems plausible that this social approach from Bing could help there.

Meanwhile, a Tuesday (May 17) introduction from a software firm that touts Walgreens, Safeway, David’s Bridal and Overstock.com as customers threatens to make even deeper inroads into social data-mining. That vendor, Attensity, said it can now search all social communications—both private, such as customers E-mailing or otherwise interacting with a retailer, and public, which is a customer posting on her Facebook page that she just received a big raise—and find new information “hidden within the unstructured text of customer conversations.”

This claim is simultaneously exciting and deeply disturbing. Let’s step back for a moment. For social data-mining, there are three relevant categories.


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