Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Software agents give out PR advice

New Scientist, Duncan Graham-Rowe

Governments and big business like to indulge in media spin, and that means knowing what is being said about them. But finding out is becoming ever more difficult, with thousands of news outlets, websites and blogs to monitor.

Now a British company is about to launch a software program that can automatically gauge the tone of any electronic document. It can tell whether a newspaper article is reporting a political party’s policy in a positive or negative light, for instance, or whether an online review is praising a product or damning it. Welcome to the automation of PR.

Till now, discovering whether the coverage you are getting is good or bad, negative or neutral has usually meant hiring a “reputation management” firm. Teams of people employed by the company will read through everything written about a chosen organisation, person, event or issue and report back on how favourable it is.

As well as being expensive, this can be a long, slow process, says Nick Jacobi, director of research for the Corpora Software company in Surrey, UK. “There’s a massive information overload.” A single news agency may churn out more than eight articles each hour. That is almost 200 stories a day per news outlet.

With any luck PR software is more reliable than translation software.

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