The Machines

The Crowdwire Aims to Make Sense of Twitter’s Tower of Political Babel

Thank god someone's volunteered.
 The Crowdwire Aims to Make Sense of Twitters Tower of Political Babel

Mr. Powers (Photo: Bluefin)

With the Republican and Democratic conventions just days away, the presidential election is kicking into high gear, and suddenly everyone in your Twitter and Facebook feeds are self-appointed pundits. This isn’t the first election cycle supercharged by the existence of social media, but there’s more people online posting more content than ever–which makes all that sentiment both more valuable and more difficult to parse.

Enter The Crowdwire, a new effort devoted to making sense of all that chatter.

“This is the biggest conversation, in essence, that the world has ever known,” William Powers, the project head, told Betabeat. “There are now a couple of billion comments a week in social media. So how do you get your arms around that? How do you make sense of that? How do you make it more than just a Tower of Babel?”

The project is an experiment by Bluefin Labs, a social TV analytics company born from the geeky depths of founder Deb Roy’s machine learning research. (So if Kraft wants actual data on whether an ad campaign stirred the social media waters, the company can help.)

Politics might seem like something of a leap, but Mr. Powers said it’s actually “sort of perfect.”

“Most of the action happens on TV. That’s where we watch it unfold,” he explained.

The site went live Tuesday, so besides the intro there are just two posts–neither of which is particularly earth-shattering. One compares Mitt Romney and Barack Obama to other brands like the iPhone and Batman, while the other tracks Mr. Romney’s bumpy summer, popularity-wise. But Mr. Powers claimed these were just “a taste” of what was to come, and he hopes they can do “a lot of really deep analysis” over the coming weeks.

Bluefin hasn’t hired anyone besides Mr. Powers, who’s been working on the project since the beginning of the year, as well as a handful of interns. The site, he stressed, is a non-commercial experiment, a way to take Bluefin’s technologies for a test drive.

His goal is vague but ambitious. He wants everyone to look back after the election and say: “Wow, those guys at the Crowdwire stumbled on something, kind of a new way of thinking about politics, a new way of understanding a presidential election, that maybe we can all learn something from and come back next time around and take those lessons to a new place.”

Nor is the horizon limited to politics, and the non-specificity of the name is deliberate. “If we have some success with this and people like what we do, we could apply this to any subject,” he said, citing events from earthquakes to the Olympics.

“In my view, this is in some ways a new sort of groundbreaking field of journalism, if you think about it,” said Mr. Powers, who formerly worked as a journalist for the Washington Post. “We’re telling people, with a lot of care and fact-checking and double fact-checking and so forth, what’s happening in the social world on some of the most important topics of our time.”

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com