A Few Media Updates

Just wanted to share a few (unrelated)  items that have captured my attention recently…

  • This surprising story about a Dean at Yale getting suspended from her job over a couple of “insensitive” Yelp reviews. Actually, I am still figuring out what I think about all of this.  (Who found these reviews?  Why were they reported?  Was suspension of employment perhaps an excessive response?)  I DEFINITELY welcome your comments as I try to make sense of this situation myself. (This story was sent to me by former student, Dr. Erhan Aslan – thanks, Erhan!)
  • super interesting podcast featuring 2 of my favorite “celebrity linguists,” Deborah Tannen and John McWhorter, talking about some of my favorite topics: intercultural communication, interruption, language & gender, and, as most of my former students will likely remember… “complementary schismogenesis”!!! (Thanks to Taylor for the link & thanks to Nathan for the photo!)
  • And I just finished reading this engaging book by Marcel Danesi.

The main points of this book can be boiled down to a few sentences.  Basically, emoji add support to a text: they primarily communicate affective (rather than referential) meaning. In other words, what emoji contribute to a message is more of an emotional nuance than actual content – that is, they help cue readers on how to interpret the main message (just like our intonation, or facial expressions, provide in F2F communication).  The bulk of the message is still realized, by and large, linguistically. One final point: the overwhelming majority of emoji are used to communicate positive feelings, which means that 🙂  is much more common in our communication than 🙁 .  That’s the book in a nutshell.  (However, as an added bonus…for anyone who’s ever wondered about what “semiotics” is all about, this book offers a very friendly and approachable introduction to the topic.)

What goes on in the comments section below parody reviews on Amazon?

Have you ever wondered about whether or not anyone ever writes anything in that “Comments” section that’s found under each review on Amazon?  As far as most reviews go, I’ve noticed that some readers assign a vote of “helpful” if they like a particular review; however, I’ve also observed that the “Comments” sections usually remain pretty empty.

In the last year or so, I’ve been researching different aspects of parody reviews on Amazon.  And I’ve found that although users don’t typically comment on normal reviews… there are, in contrast, many comments in response to parody reviews of products like the following.

Over the last few weeks, my undergraduate research assistant, Chelsea Lo, and I have been building a data set of comments responding to parody reviews.  Our sample consists of nearly 300 comments responding to reviews written about 6 popularly-parodied products on Amazon.  Chelsea and I have found that the most common types of expressions that appear are ones which show a reader’s appreciation of the review writer’s creativity and cleverness, such as:

BEST. REVIEW. EVER.

or:

I keep coming back to giggle at this post.

or (one of our personal favorites):

I hope you got some college credit for this.

A few even took the form of mock wedding proposals:

Marry me. You are the man?/woman? of my dreams.

The next most common responses are those which pose some kind of a reply that’s directed to the review’s author. Often, these types of responses play along with joke, acting as though they inhabit the same fictional world that’s been created by the parody review writer.  For example, this commenter asks the author of one of the Three Wolf Moon T-shirt parody reviews for more information about the missing ending of the narrative he has crafted:

Hey what’s the end what happened between you and the asthmatic???? Don’t leave us all hanging!!!!! Did you end up ordering the shirt in newborn size? Hmmmmm???

These 2 types of responses account for over 80% of the comments in our sample. The remaining 20% of comments are things like: a reply to another commenter in the same strand  (“I second that impulse to “like.””); stand-alone laughter tokens, for example “LOL!! ” or “BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA“; or random popular culture references, like references to Star Wars, or to lyrics of popular songs.

We found only 2 instances of “policing behavior” (e.g., “Seriously?” , “GROW UP”  ) – and these followed some of the more political parody reviews of Avery Binders, which were associated with Mitt Romney’s now-famous “binders full of women” comment.

By and large then, Chelsea and I conclude that vast majority comments in response to parody reviews on Amazon are favorable, showing affiliation with and appreciation of their authors’ creativity and humor.

NYT Story about UBER

I have a long list of topics that I have been wanting to blog about, but between dissertation defenses, conferences, and course-final assignments, it’s a busy time right now.  Hope to be posting at least once per month starting in May though!

In the meantime, this weekend, the NYT ran a great story about Uber.  Especially fascinating is how Uber is leveraging insights from both behavioral science and big data analytics to entice their drivers to stay on the road.  To do this, Uber relies on principles of “gamification,” which combine individualized income targets for drivers with the “ludic loop” = that state of mind that happens when you’re playing an addictive video game and the target goal is always just a tiny bit out of reach.

Whenever I take an Uber, I usually ask the driver a series of questions about their experiences working for the company.  It looks like I’ll be adding some new questions to my “informal interviews” about how drivers view the effectiveness of these targeted messages they receive.

Anti-Refugee Rhetoric on Twitter

This week’s RDM guest blogger, Ramona Kreis, shares her research about a topic that could not be any more timely: anti-refugee discourse.  Ramona writes

Twitter has become part of our daily lives. Twitter occupies an unprecedented position in contemporary U.S. politics, as current President Trump continues to use his personal Twitter account  to connect to his followers, to react to his opponents, and to reaffirm his political and ideological viewpoints.  On January 27, the Trump administration issued an executive order, which suspended entry of refugees to the United States, and suddenly brought the topic of refugees into the spotlight in the U.S.  However, the “refugee issue” has been a central one for some time now in Europe, where the discourse around refugees and refugee asylum policies has dominated news and social media over the last year and a half.

In mid-2015, increasing numbers of refugees and migrants crossed the borders to Europe, trying to reach countries in Western, Central, and Northern Europe. According to the Dublin Regulation, asylum seekers should apply for asylum in the state where they first enter the European Union. Public awareness of the development of a humanitarian crisis – 71 migrants heading to Germany were found dead in a truck in Austria – led German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, to admit Syrian refugees to Germany, and to accept applications for asylum despite the Dublin Regulation. With her statement “We can do this” (Wir schaffen das), she encouraged the work of many volunteers and made an appeal to Germans as well as her European partners.

After an initial period of welcoming refugees however, some Europeans grew more critical of accepting large numbers of migrants, fearing financial and societal repercussions. News stories began to appear about refugees and refugee homes being attacked by right-wing extremists. On Twitter, I came across a hashtag that seemed to resonate with this changing attitude toward refugees: #refugeesnotwelcome. Many tweets that included #refugeesnotwelcome were disturbing, irritating, and, frankly, disgusting, but given the large number of tweets that used this hashtag and the increasing rejection of Merkel’s “We can do this” stance, I wanted to learn more about the types of discursive strategies being used by the authors of those tweets.

I collected over 100 tweets that were posted in the middle of September 2015, when the number of arrivals started to peak and, at the same time, when violent crimes against refugees increased drastically. Dealing with a topic so tied to inequality and relations of dominance, I chose a critical discourse analytical (CDA) perspective to guide my analysis.  My study explored how Twitter users employed this hashtag to express their discontent both with refugees and immigrants as well as with pro-refugee policies and practices (such as the initial welcoming of Syrian refugees by Chancellor Merkel). Tweets that included #refugeesnotwelcome ranged from “I have nothing against immigrants, but …”, a well-attested and commonly-used preface to all kinds of racist discourses, to “they are not ‘refugees’ but invaders”, whereby the authors reframed European nations as being under threat from an “invasion” of Muslims. Often refugees were depicted as social parasites and criminals. Overall, the authors of these tweets presented themselves positively, while presenting refugees negatively.

The following tweet illustrates how some Twitter users employ strategies to negatively depict migrants and refugees.

This author retweets a previous tweet about unrest that arose between refugees and the police in mid-September 2015 in Röszke, a Hungarian village close to the Serbian border. The original tweet also included images of rioting men, thus establishing a connection between the migrants referred to in the text, and the men depicted in the images. The author not only retweets this particular account of violent (im)migrants, but also adds the comment: These poor “refugees”. And all these women and children…. #IronyOff #RefugeesNotWelcome #Invasion. By putting the term refugees in quotation marks and adding the adjective poor, the author constructs an ironic tone, both questioning the legitimacy of the term “refugee” and the notion of refugees requiring assistance. He further adds all these women and children, a group that is often considered as in need of special protection, further questioning the need to protect refugees. Indeed, many refugees arriving in Europe were young males and this argument was often used in anti-refugee discourse. Seeing only rioting men in the images further implies that these refugees are not in need, but rather causing trouble. By including #IronyOff, the author confirms he was being ironic, however after “switching off” the irony, the following hashtags, #RefugeesNotWelcome and #Invasion, instead reveal the author’s true perspective. Although he does not refer to refugees as “illegals” or “criminals” as many other Twitter users did, he delegitimizes the term “refugee” and questions the need to help refugees. Instead he views the migration movement as an invasion, and as a threat to his identity and territory.

When I started the project, it didn’t seem like right-wing populism had fully permeated Europe or the US. We were still pre-Brexit and pre-“alternative-facts.” The discourse strategies I identified in my project are certainly not new, but as we see such nationalist and anti-the-others discourses gaining ground in many Western societies, it is necessary to be aware of these strategies in order to dismantle them.

Restricted entry: online code-switching and long-distance belonging

This week’s RDM guest blogger, Antonella Gazzardi, takes us on a multilingual journey that started in Orlando’s Epcot center – and eventually found its way to Facebook.

Antonella writes:

I am interested in code-switching practices, their underlying creativity, and how they spill over into social media. I am referring to a way of playing with languages that is shared by a small community of practice I belong to – and Facebook is what allows me to be exposed to it daily. Our community consists of Italian expats who mix Italian and English in a distinctive way, which is very much tied to a specific work environment that we all shared for one year: Epcot’s Italian pavilion food & beverage facilities.

For people who must leave this environment when their visa ends and then scatter around the world, language practices that originally emerged in this face-to face context eventually leak over into social media communication, where it’s possible to reach many people across the globe with one fast, cheap, and simple click. So when a Facebook page was opened to share our memories , it was quickly flooded by comments reminiscing about those days, conveyed, of course, using the particular hybrid language that we have come to identify with our Epcot experience.

The most active participants in the FB group are former employees, who post, comment, and comment on comments, using a jargon that can only be understood if you are … one of us.   This is because some of the unique blends only make sense in that Italian-American working context.  Some of these expressions take on entirely new meanings, which are virtually obscure to outsiders – even if they are bilingual. I’ve been collecting samples of this context-specific language for roughly 8 months, and I have classified them in two major categories.

The first category is word blends and expressions that are context-specific to Orlando/Industry expats. For example, an Italian speaker who is fluent in English may quickly (and correctly) infer that “ciargiare” is an Italianized infinitive for “to charge,” since it has become common for many Italians with some knowledge of English to Italianize technology-related words in exactly the same way. These days, everybody understands “postare”, “taggare”, “hackerare”, or “spammare”, blends that bounce back and forth from offline to online exchanges.  So what exactly  is distinctive about our Facebook posts? This is where I think context, creativity, bilingualism, and code-switching all come into play in a uniquely clever way:

What is a cippettone? What does stampare mean here, if it is not the literal translation of “to print”– which it is not. What is pompa time for bananas? What does push push push and pusha babe! mean when the speaker does not specify what needs to be pushed? And, if one’s “final trip” is not the one to the graveyard, then what is it?

“Cippettone” is a blend of the English word “cheap” and the Italian suffix “-one,” which translates into a “big” whatever noun precedes it. In this case, the augmentative (“-one”) is pejorative in connotation: it refers to a very cheap patron. “Stampare” means to stamp checks, a metaphor for a priori adding gratuities to the bill based on the number of patrons. “Pompa time” is when the “pompatori” (literally, people who inflate) get into action, i.e. servers who are known to regularly make much more money than average ones. So “pompa time” is rush hour, when skilled servers can upsell and turn tables as fast as possible, which is what “push push push” and the blend “pusha babe!” mean. Of course, in so doing they make lots of money, affectively nick-named “bananas”, maybe because of their golden skin. And when their one-year work contract is over, it’s time to use  time left on their visa to travel around the United States before heading home: the “final trip.”

The second group of posts consists of somewhat less context-dependent, but still community-contingent, instances of code-switching used by expats for communicating specific types of information.  These language switches often refer back to a past event, or a memory of the time spent working at Epcot.  Here’s are a few examples from FB:

“Se per quelli che erano all’Alfredo, many years ago, ma ve lo ricordate Charlie, il cameriere brasiliano?”           (For those who worked at Alfredo’s, many years ago, do you remember Charlie, the Brazilian server?)

No way!! Il vino la sua ossessione!”                                    (No way! Wine was his obsession!)

“(…) Family numerosa !”                                                                   (Big family!)

These three comments, like many others, use Italian syntax and vocabulary for the most part, but occasional English phrases or words are dropped in that tie their authors back to this specific bilingual community. Because most of the members of the FB group are Italian, there is no need to use “many years ago”, “no way”, or “family” instead of their Italian counterparts here.

This language use is automatic, it expresses being part of a community, and it reinforces the bond shared by those who have had common experiences in this particular setting. In fact, I have found that this jargon is kept alive across continents by those of us who are former Epcot employees – but when we communicate online about things other than our Epcot experience, we very rarely code-switch.  Therefore, the mixing of codes that I have been studying is both functionally and contextually specific.

Arguing online over food ownership

With the current state of U.S. politics, we’re all aware of the contentious debates that are taking place in many online spaces today.  But you might be surprised to learn how heated things have recently gotten on social media spaces dedicated to…cooking?  As this week’s RDM guest blogger, Jessica Giovanni, explains, Facebook’s “Tasty” page is a site that’s full of drama.

tasty-logo

Jessica writes:

Tasty specializes in video recipes that are both creative yet easy to recreate, thus their target audience is presumably people who enjoy trying new things and/or need an easy meal to cook due to their busy schedules, lack of culinary skills, or both. Most of Tasty’s videos contain simple ingredients, simple cooking methods, short cooking times, and an unconventional spin on established traditional recipes. So, as both a user of the site and a researcher of online discourse, I’ve been surprised to see the hundreds of people flooding the “Comment” sections of these videos with negative evaluations of the site’s recipes.

In last semester’s Discourse Analysis class, I chose to focus on comments responding to a Tasty video showing a recipe for a spaghetti and meatball bake.

spaghetti-meatball-bake

This recipe had a total of 11,542 comments and about 14 million views associated with it, for likely a couple of reasons. 1) Spaghetti and meatballs is a highly Americanized take on the classic Italian dish of spaghetti with meat sauce. 2) Also at issue is the way that the dish is prepared, namely, that it is baked. This unusual (at least from an Italian perspective) method of preparation serves Tasty’s main purposes: speed and ease of the cooking process.

I analyzed 50 comments from the video, as automatically sorted by Facebook’s Top 50 Comments algorithm. There were two main groups of people commenting in this space: 1) those who objected to the video recipe in some way, and 2) those who positioned themselves against the first group. Example 1 is representative of the first group’s comments, which dominated the data set, with 25 out of 50 comments.  (The second group was represented by 13/50 comments, and 12/50 were neutral.)

Example #1

Please stop fake italian recipes.

Remember, in real italian recipes:

-we don’t use paprika in any foods, paprika is not in italian culture.

-doesn’t exist pasta with potato or chicken, or KETCHUP. Pasta with ketchup is the biggest insult to the italian kitchen, please use tomato souce.

-we use garlic, not garlic powder, in italy doesn’t exist

-parsley with meat balls? Why?

-we cook pasta in boil water and only after it we bake it

-in Italy DOESN’T EXIST PASTA WITH MEATBALLS!! Is Ragú, is not with meatballs, google it

– what is Alfredo souce?!? And Bolognese souce?!? Please stop it, we call french fries, hamburger or hot dog with their name, please do the same with our foods.

The opening line, framed as a request (“Please stop fake italian recipes”) summarizes the main point of the entire commentary: This user objects to the recipe in the video because it is inauthentic.  As the text continues, the author of Example 1 establishes authenticity, both through contrasting constructions ( “fake” vs. “real” Italian food) and by making a series of claims about what “does not exist in Italy/Italian cuisine” (i.e., paprika, garlic powder – or any pasta dishes that include chicken, potatoes, ketchup, and, of course, meatballs).   These repeated statements about what does and doesn’t exist in Italy – combined with several first person plural pronoun “we” statements (e.g., “we use” “we don’t use” “we cook”) –  position the author as an expert on Italian food, and as a member of the culture from which the dish (ostensibly) originates.

In contrast, the second group of commenters explicitly react against the opinions of the people who have negatively evaluated the video.  Their comments focus more on who has the right to comment in the space, based on the presumed target audience of the page. Since Tasty’s videos seem to cater to people who either do not have the time nor the skills to put together complicated meals, the second group of commenters uses this line of argumentation to counter the comments made by the first group. This oppositional stance is illustrated in Example 2.

Example #2

Hey people please stop complaining! This is a site that is for inspiration… i think the idea is great… if i cook Bolognese sauce its always too much so i can make that on the next day… so i make my own sauce and i would rather take normal spaghetti and i would make my own way of meatball… everybody can make it in another way but the idea is good… and remember that there are people out there that are not good cooker and dor them this is easy to make… so PLEASE STOP BITCHING!!!

The author of Example 2 highlights Tasty’s intended purpose (“a site that is for inspiration”) and dismisses those comments made by the first group as non-legitimate, by referring to them as “complaining” and “bitching.”  This author stresses in different ways the main objectives of the cooking videos: to prepare food that is simple and quick to prepare (“easy to make”). In this way, the user projects his/her membership as a legitimate in-group member of the page’s intended audience, and positions those who are against the video as outgroup members, who are missing the point of the site.

Online discourses such as these reveal differing food ideologies.  The two groups’ claims to authority and their membership statements demonstrate opposing stances on the issue of whether or not it is appropriate to recontextualize ethnic cuisines. The first group’s comments indicate that some users reject any version of an original recipe that deviates from the traditionally accepted preparation methods of the origin culture, while the second group believes that traditional recipes can be altered, provided that the reasons for those alterations are made clear. Discussions such as these, especially in online spaces, not only reveal a range of beliefs about food “ownership,” but also reinforce and (re)circulate those ideas, by exploiting the particular affordances of the social media platform on which they appear. Having an awareness of the different ways that those ideologies are represented linguistically can help users identify the rhetorical strategies that are used in social media communications and to better understand what people believe as well as how they represent those beliefs to others. As social media continue to have increasing influence on/presence in our lives, it is more important than ever to become a critical consumer of online discourse and to consider its impact on our identities and cultures.

Are there any bad Airbnb experiences?

My first experience with Airbnb was 5 years ago.  A group of us were planning to meet for a 4-day conference in Boston, and one friend suggested we rent a 2-story brownstone on Airbnb.  Her idea was that rather than staying in 3 separate hotel rooms, we could all save some money this way – and we could also see each other a bit more, since at that time, we were scattered across different parts of the world. The plan sounded good to all of us.

Our Airbnb host was pleasant young woman who lived on the ground level of the same building, and as she gave us the key and showed us around the 2 floors of our unit, she assured us that we could use anything and everything we found in the house:  the kitchen was fully stocked, the living spaces were filled with fascinating vintage objects… but the real highlight was our host’s eclectic collection of over 2,000 records.  She said we could play those too. (We took up her offer: the 5 of us stayed up really late one night, drinking wine, and listening to genres of music we didn’t even know existed.)  After our initial orientation, we never saw our host again, but every now and again, we could hear her footsteps below us (which, at least to us, felt more reassuring than obtrusive).

In the end, the house was a bit out of the way, and Boston was cold, so what we ended up saving on hotel rooms we probably spent in taxi fares.  But we definitely got to spend more time as a group – making breakfast together in the morning, and at the end of each day, lounging around comfortably in “our” living room, chatting, and catching up with each other.  It’s one of my favorite conference memories.

Since then, I’ve used Airbnb over a dozen times.  Sometimes because Airbnb was a more economical option than a hotel (Barcelona, Helsinki); other times because I wanted to stay in a particular neighborhood that didn’t even have any hotels in it (Chicago, Philadelphia); and a few other times, out of nothing more than a sheer sense of adventure (Bali).  All of these stays have been memorable – either due to some unique features of the property itself, or due to the host’s fun or quirky perspective which expressed itself in the property’s furnishings (like in our Boston house), or perhaps due to an unexpected interpersonal interaction associated with our stay (either with the host, or with other guests).

Of all of my Airbnb experiences, only 1 has been unacceptable.  And this seems to be the general trend.  For most people I’ve talked to, the overwhelming majority of their Airbnb experiences have been great…and sometimes even amazing. I’ve collected stories of Airbnb hosts picking guests up at the airport late at night, of making them breakfast or cooking them dinner, of showing them around the city, of introducing them to their group of local friends: in other words, experiences which involve some kind of actual “sharing” – as is implied by the broader label of “the sharing economy.”

However, most people who use Airbnb regularly have also shared at least one story of a not-so-great — or even downright-unpleasant — experience (a dirty property, a unit that looked nothing like what was advertised, an unresponsive host, etc.).  These experiences are certainly the exception rather than the norm.  But I always ask: “Did you leave a negative review on Airbnb’s site?”  And the answer, invariably, is “no.”

There are many reasons for this, as Judith Bridges and I discuss in our recent Current Issues in Tourism article: “If nearly all Airbnb reviews are positive, does that make them meaningless?”  As we explain, sometimes reviews that appear to be positive on the surface, actually reflect less-than-positive experiences.  We also provide a few tips Airbnb consumers can use for “reading between the lines” as they consult reviews on the site.

Parody Reviews… and Final Video Projects

I’m very happy to share this update : my first “Amazon parody reviews” article has just been published in the online journal, Language@Internet!  I’ve been working on this topic ever since I finished writing my book about review language, two years ago. I’ve even given 3 or 4 conference talks about it since then.  But, for some reason, figuring out exactly the right angle to take has been a challenging and lengthy ordeal.  Nevertheless, once the writing finally got underway, I was lucky enough to have a couple of other related papers come out of the process.  So… if all goes well, a second article about narrative identities in parody reviews, and a book chapter comparing references to gender in legitimate versus parody reviews, should appear later — perhaps sometime in 2017.  Stay tuned!

I have one other piece of digital media to share.  Rather than writing final term papers this semester, my awesome undergraduate Language & Society students (these guys):groupworked on multi-phase, group video projects. They modeled their projects after a video made by Manchester University.  My main objectives were: 1) for students to gain an experiential understanding of the linguistic diversity of Tampa Bay (something that many folks at our university and in our area take for granted); 2) to interact with people whose experiences may be different from their own; 3) to demonstrate a few things that they learned from our course readings and discussions throughout this semester; and 4) to gain experience synthesizing and presenting information effectively in a multi-modal digital format.  One of the groups uploaded their video to YouTube, and I’m very pleased to showcase it here. Enjoy!

I definitely plan to incorporate more video projects in my future teaching.

From Internet Rules!…to Bad Hombres?

A couple weeks ago, I attended the annual conference of the Association of Internet Researchers (AOIR) in Berlin.  This conference has been held every year since 2000, and it’s dedicated to exploring all things internet-related = it’s impressively multidisciplinary.   This year’s theme was “Internet Rules!”  (polysemously referencing ideas related to who rules the internet?” as well as “what are the rules of the internet?”).  I attended 4 days of mind-blowingly good presentations, on topics ranging from humorous memes, to peer economy platforms and post-colonial computing, to what happens in our digital afterlives, to big-data visualizations.

I participated in a panel on “Sociolinguistic perspectives on everyday digital practices,” where my colleagues talked about topics such as: academics’ stances on digital writing practices (David Barton), the role of hashtags in Hong Kong’s umbrella movement (Carmen Lee), and the implications of surveillance for our digital interactions (Rodney Jones).  In my own talk, I used the conference theme as a point of departure, in exploring various types of “rule-breaking” in the Amazon review space – as well as related metadiscourse(s).

Returning from Berlin, I bounced right back into the classroom, and in my UG “Language & Society” course, one of our readings this week was Jane Hill’s “Language, Race and White Public Space.”  (I make it a point to work some discussion of “mock Spanish” into any Sociolinguistics course that I teach…but this is the first time I’m teaching this content to undergraduates.)  More than half of the students seemed to understand how covert racism operates in the examples that Jane Hill presents…but I could tell that a few students still weren’t completely convinced, as they tried to argue for alternative interpretations of the “mock Spanish” examples discussed (e.g., “they’re just having fun,” ” lighthearted Spanish practice,” “I wouldn’t take it so seriously” …)

And then presidential debate #3 happened.  Any lingering doubts about the reality of mock Spanish were instantly erased: the following day, my students came to class and ALL they wanted to talk about was Trump’s use of “bad hombres”! As my colleague, Adam Schwartz, explains so beautifully in this post, “bad hombres” may be the most emblematic example of mock Spanish that we have seen to date.  And as it continues to generate more memes and become more embedded in our online collective consciousness, I know I’ll be using this example in my own teaching for many years to come.

Viewing social media data from a qualitative perspective

When it comes to mining social media for information, I’ve observed that it’s quite unusual for folks from the business world to consider alternatives to “big data” approaches.   So I was delighted to see that, in this recent article from the Harvard Business Review, the authors argue that qualitative approaches to social media listening can generate new insights for companies.

This resonates with what I’ve been saying for the last couple of years.  When I’ve had opportunities to speak to, or work with, companies in the travel industry for example, I have been advocating a “small data” approach to the analysis of user-generated online reviews.  There is no question that  big data approaches can be useful in revealing large, general patterns of consumer behavior.  However, like the authors of this HBR article, I have found that close, careful, qualitative text analysis can yield very different types of contextually-relevant insights into consumer experience and sentiment.