Sentiment vs. facts
There was an interesting article in The New York Times by Alex Wright entitled Mining the Web for Feelings, Not Facts about how companies are beginning to "mine" online social media such as blogs and social networks for consumer attitudes towards companies and their policies, products, and services. The emerging field of sentiment analysis aims at translating vague or not so vague opinions into hard data. The key thing here is that companies are much more interested in how consumers feel about companies and their policies, products, and services than in traditional hard, factual data.
In addition to how people feel, companies are also interested in identifying who are the more influential opinion holders.
Organizing and presenting all of this data is also a key challenge.
The one point I would make is that this is all fine and dandy for companies, but I think that consumers would like to access similar data and analyses.
There is obviously a lot in common for what a company and a consumer would like to do in terms of understanding sentiment towards companies and their policies, products, and services, but there are differences. In some sense, consumers may have even more intense needs and desires to seek and be at the bleeding edge of consumer trends. After all, it is the consumers who both have an intense passion for being part of the latest trends as well as setting the trends.
The obvious difference is that consumers won't be paying an arm and a leg for expensive software and services for sentiment analysis.
Consumers already have some amount of familiarity with sentiment analysis as there are a wealth of lists of top topics, hit topics, most read stories, top keywords, ranking and sharing of preferences for web pages, etc.
My hunch is that there are probably more consumers that have a keener sense of sentiment on the Internet than your average corporate suit in traditional market intelligence.
In any case, consumers need ever-greater tools and capabilities for recording and monitoring sentiment, both as producers of sentiment and consumers of sentiment.
As we evolve an infrastructure for a true knowledge web, representation and access to sentiment knowledge and data needs to be a key focus.