Swipp is yet another attempt to discover the next big thing in social media, functioning as an app for cross-posting to Facebook and Twitter as well as its own social network. One of its distinguishing characteristics is an attempt to classify posts about a given topic and rate them according to a common scale, from -5 to +5 (with corresponding smiley face to frowney face icons), rather than relying on indicators such as Facebook's "like" button or natural language analysis of the content of posts. If Swipp's designers can convince a significant number of social media users to employ this method (a big "if"), this mechanism would factor the uncertainty out of sentiment analysis for these posts.
"We use the face as the normalizer of the data," said Don Thorson, CEO and co-founder of Swipp. "That's the key to the translation of qualitative to quantitative data." The user interface is set up so you must at least touch the slider that sets your sentiment from big grin to faint smile or deep frown -- even if it's only to confirm you want to leave it as a neutral zero -- or you will be reminded with an error message ("You forgot to make a face").
Sentiment analysis via natural language processing is the sort of thing "the Google guys figure they must be able to solve ... with $20 million and a bunch of algorithms, but our attitude is, 'I'm glad we're not that smart,'" Thorson said.
Swipp is launching as a website and an iPhone app, along with a widget developer's toolkit for adding the Swipp interface to other websites.
The idea is that you can create a stream of Swipp posts associated with a company, a brand, a celebrity or an individual product on a retail website (where Swipp would function as a ratings and reviews type widget). The real benefit of that approach will materialize in the analytics, Thorson said. "You will be able to put in your product and three to five other products and graph them like a stock chart." Such payoffs won't begin to become apparent until Swipp is better established, he conceded.
What Swipp is really doing is breaking down the artificial distinction between ephemeral social posts and longer-lived topical social content such as Wikipedia posts, Thorson said. He believes this is one of those simple ideas with broad applications -- including possibilities that will be impossible to anticipate until they are revealed by the market.
Thorson and his cofounders previously worked together at Ribbit, a Web-based telecommunication company purchased by BT for $105 million in 2008.
Social media make the customer more powerful than ever. Here's how to listen and react. Also in the new, all-digital The Customer Really Comes First issue of The BrainYard: The right tools can help smooth over the rough edges in your social business architecture. (Free registration required.)