I've said that opposing viewpoints over human vs. computer analysis of social media content don't constitute a debate, because I've never heard both sides at the same time and place. Now, thanks to an email exchange between Mike Daniels (Report International) and Mark Westaby (Spectrum) for Research magazine, I have to stop using that little observation. It's now—finally—a debate.
After an exchange of the usual points and counterpoints (speed, accuracy, sarcasm, synonyms...), the discussion really gets going in the comments. Mark makes a point that may summarize why I find this stuff interesting:
Automated analysis should not be viewed as a replacement for human analysis. Rather, it is a different method that is opening up entirely new and tremendously exciting ways of analysing data.(One of Mark's current projects, Fin-buzz, provides a hint about his meaning.)
The usual debate: a closed question
If you're looking at it from a media analysis perspective, this question comes down to quantity and quality. How much media can you analyze in a way that you will trust? The new technologies will let you analyze more media sources faster, if you accept the results. In a world bursting with new publishers, that could be a good thing, and that's where we find the usual—reminding myself to use the word now—debate.
Moving to an open-ended question
Speed and scale benefits come from the application of new tools to old questions—not a bad thing, but not terribly interesting. Coming at it from another angle, the rise of automated analysis suggests a question about the removal of obstacles: What would you do with online information if you could "read" all of it? We're seeing some early ideas; what else is it good for?
Which question are you thinking about? Is "good enough for media analysis" your standard, or does the prospect of a different set of capabilities (with new tradeoffs, yes) inspire new ideas?
Update: T.R. Fitz-Gibbon picks up the discussion on the Networked Insights blog: Social Media Analytics, Humans vs. Machines.
Photo by Narisa.