Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Oscar Night Means a Torrent of Twittering. Trendrr Gets Ready to Tally It Up.

Things that will happen tonight: Lots of people will watch the Oscars*. Lots of people will tweet about the Oscars. And lots of people will spend a lot of time and energy tracking those tweets.

Many of those folks work at Trendrr, one of several start-ups trying to make a go of the “social TV” boom. A dozen of the company’s 20 employees will spend the day monitoring the broadcast, as well as the red carpet run-up to the show and the post-event recaps.

But Trendrr did its heaviest lifting last week, when it had to figure out exactly how it was going to track Twitter’s Oscar conversation. (Like its peers, Trendrr also keeps tabs on Facebook and other social outfits, but Twitter provides it with the most complete data stream.)

Some of you will go out of your way to help Trendrr and its competitors, like Bluefin and Socialguide, by explicitly labeling your Oscar tweets via hashtags like “#oscars.”

But many of you may simply type something about “The Descendants” at some point during ABC’s broadcast. And some of you may leave out the space between the two words, or the “The” altogether. How to account for all of that?

A combination of art and science, says Trendrr CEO Mark Ghuneim. His team spent the week going through the list of award categories and nominees that will be televised, as well as any presenters expected to be on stage, etc.

That yielded around 200 search terms that his computers will use to search the Twitter stream. And each search term will contain multiple queries — not just “The Artist,” for instance, but “TheArtist.” (You can see some of the list, pictured left.)

Some of the other stuff is trickier to account for, and Trendrr will need to make some decisions about some of the tweets on the fly. If it sees a spike in tweets about “Drive,” for instance, it will need to figure out if people are talking about tooling around in a Toyota, or a sound-editing award.

All of which make for interesting data points after the event, some of which I’ll happy to write up here. (Spoiler alert: Just like the Super Bowl and the Grammys, the Oscars will generate a big year-over-year increase in Twitter activity.)

The long-term question is what kind of value all of this data will provide for programmers and advertisers.

Even if it turns out that Twitter (and Facebook, and every other social service) is directing more eyeballs toward TV — a narrative that pleases both the old- and new-media folks — how is it helpful to know that “George Clooney” was a popular term on Twitter last night?

“This is a swarm event,” Ghuneim says. “And when you have a swarm event, that’s when the action is most actionable.”

That sounds smart, though I’m a little skeptical that the ad world is anything close to nimble enough to do a lot with the data right now. Still, lots of marketing folks seem interested in this stuff in the present tense — if you visit Interpublic Group’s Media Lab, for instance, you’ll see Trendrr data displayed prominently. And always better to have more data than less, right?

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to finish my preshow Melissa McCarthy appreciation exercises.

*If I had to bet, I’d go along with the conventional wisdom that gives “The Artist” an armful of statues. And if you haven’t seen it, I’d say this: It’s fun! You should go! But if you don’t see it in a theater, and end up watching at home, you’re going to be underwhelmed. Can’t watch this one with a remote or an iPhone in your hand.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work