Measuring Audience Sentiment: Twelve Years Later

In 2000, I represented Peoples Poll, Inc. in its negotiations with CNN.  Peoples Poll sought to provide an online polling solution so that CNN and others could measure audience sentiment and share the results real-time.  Peoples Poll’s challenge in the Web 1.0 environment was convincing CNN that it could deliver the infrastructure needed to receive and process perhaps millions of votes, particularly in the face of a crisis or other significant news event.  Before issues could be resolved, AOL and Time Warner announced their merger.  Because this was a technology project, Time Warner took charge of the integration of all Turner projects and put the deal on hold pending completion of the merger, eventually losing its visibility and momentum.  A few other contemporaneous polling sites also met their demise in the Dotcom Bust.

Flash forward to 2012.  I now represent Heartbyte, Inc., which has a real-time platform for audience participation.  “We want brands to interact with their audiences in a new way, turning campaigns into true two-way conversations,” said Mike Keen, Heartbyte’s CEO.  Like Peoples Poll, Heartbyte is negotiating with brands, agencies and broadcasters to provide real-time sentiment polling, content and analysis on a massive scale.  Will it be different this time?

Developments over the past twelve years, as we have moved towards Web 3.0, are encouraging.  Of particular note in 2012 are (i) mobility and (ii) “big data” infrastructure.

Mobility.  Heartbyte focuses on engagement through touch-enabled smart phones and tablet devices.  Its mobile web application offers consumers a way to provide feedback and information to brands, as they interact with media or attend live events. Heartbyte’s Administration Interface displays aggregated data along with the demographic and geographic information in real-time.  As a mobile-based platform, Heartbyte enjoys the advantage of segmenting user identity and data/users geographically. Heartbyte can tell brands, in real-time, who their real audience is, where they are, and what they are thinking.  (By contrast, in 2000, Peoples Poll had no way of knowing who the person at the computer was.)

An example of an instant poll conducted by Heartbyte during a Republican presidential debate

“Big Data” Infrastructure.

The Heartbyte architecture allows brands to push their content to millions of people – allowing analysts to slice and dice the data
 across different demographics and geography. Where tests in the past have taken days to complete, Heartbyte conducts focus groups and generates reports instantly. (By contrast, in 2000 CNN had significant doubts about Peoples Poll’s infrastructure and scalability.)  Two developments in “big data” have made it possible for Heartbyte to succeed.  First, Hadoop, a series of open source projects for data processing initiated by Yahoo, enables use of commodity hardware, working in concert to crunch data, as and when needed.  Heartbyte, using Amazon’s “Elastic Compute Cloud,” spins up parallel servers on an as-needed basis.  Second, real-time data stream processing enables Heartbyte’s system to handle large amounts of inputs from a variety of sources and push custom content to consumer devices.

It’s not often that one has the opportunity to watch a business model play out in front of the same prospective customers twelve years later, with a completely different technology infrastructure.  And I have that opportunity from a front row seat.  I will keep you posted.

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