Brobst: Use of non-traditional data types is becoming a big issue. People want to get information out of Facebook, call logs and semi-structured data. There are privacy concerns in this area, but if you can get somebody to become a fan or a friend, for example, a whole new source of data is available to you.
I was at a concert recently and a retail chain was giving out a CD of that artist if you would become a fan of the store on Facebook. Most people don't realize this, but as soon as you do that, you've let them into your network. Now they have access to all your data, and most people with Facebook accounts will list their age, gender, marital status, education, geography -- way more information than you'd ever get through traditional market research. Companies are doing social-network analysis to figure out whether you are an influencer or a follower. If you can get people to become your friend, you can pay Facebook for access to the APIs and you can suck all that data out. If you then do sentiment analysis on that data, you can translate that data into something structured that you can analyze and use as the basis for making decisions.
InformationWeek: The trend toward sentiment analysis is clearly catching on, but how broadly will it be adopted?
Brobst: I'll give you some facts. One third of people that blog in some form -- and Facebook is essentially a personal blog -- comment on products or brands at some point. More than half of those who do comment on products or brands will talk about, for example, the quality of their mobile phone service. This sort of data is out there, and it's highly valuable. If you go on Facebook, you'll see that people comment that they are angry about an airline or they may write about the great service experience they had.
Big companies used to do focus groups and conventional market research surveys to get at this kind of insight, but that style of research is becoming less relevant. When my sister wants to be heard, she shouts on Facebook, and she is heard by all of her friends. There are all sorts of interesting analytics being developed to exploit these new data sources.