PULSE Takes Data Mining To A Whole New Level
- July 6th, 2009
- 5 Comments
The other day in Ypulse Essentials, Meredith mentioned a new program called “PULSE,” a self-described “real-time digital content platform that reveals the truth driving the $190 Billion teen market.” Here’s how it works according to the company’s own press release:
PULSE is a proprietary software engine that reads digital content from multiple sources across the web, including: instant messages (“IM”), blogs, social environment communities, forums, and chat rooms. PULSE analyzes the sentiment, and delivers the unsolicited raw conversations in real time. It gives marketers immediate, unique information about what teens are saying in their own words—real, usable information that is not being revealed in traditional market research. PULSE reveals the positives and negatives—about a product, a brand, a trend, an entertainer, a movie, a TV show, an athlete, a retailer, and more.
When Meredith mentioned PULSE in essentials, she called it “big brother-y,” and the reality is that something wasn’t sitting too well about this passive data collection with me either. Then I stumbled across this coverage of the new service in the Canadian press this morning that revealed an earlier project of the parent company:
The company, based on Long Island in New York State, started FamilySafe, an Internet security program that monitored and analyzed everything a child did online and sent his or her parents a text message alert about anything alarming…
In what feels like a clear case of “how can we repackage and monetize this software,” they spawned PULSE. A 17-year-old interviewed for the article clearly articulated the challenges with this software better than I could:
“No one wants to be spied on, and no one is going to trust a company that they think is spying on them,” she said.
What’s more, marketing executives would be making a big mistake to take online chatter too seriously. The Internet is a place of “throwaway opinions” and fringe points of view, and anyone who read too much into the catchphrases, inside jokes and niche interests that live there would end up with bizarre results.
“I can imagine a marketer, who at 50-something has no idea how a teenager thinks, saying, ‘This is really interesting! We should take this into consideration,’ and the rest of the world going, ‘What is this?!’”
The reality of course is that we’re all “spied on” online in a practice known as data mining with the intention of serving up more targeted advertising. Most teenagers aren’t aware that this is a common practice. And I would look for attempts to regulate this practice when it comes to mining data of internet users under the age of 18. I wonder if parents realize that PULSE is monitoring the instant message conversations of about 150,000 teens using the FamilySafe software THEY installed for the purpose of selling this data. Even if identities are masked, this feels like it takes passive data mining to a whole new level.
That’s where the second point made by the teen interviewed comes in: How reliable is data mined from these types of conversations? Sure, you may be able to track how many times a brand or product or TV show is mentioned, but being able to decipher the code teens are speaking in to their friends in a way that accounts for sarcasm, inside jokes or other misrepresentations, makes this “research” that should be taken with a pretty large grain of salt. If I were a brand with money to spend on research, I might stick with the “old fashioned” route of surveys developed by experienced researchers, samples with a good cross section of demographics and ideally some offline component like phone surveys to generate a more accurate depiction of what teens are thinking.