Google has started a process of acquiring sentiment analysis startup, fflick, for $10 million according to TechCrunch. It seems unlikely that fflick will be kept alive for its own sake, but rather the purchase is about acquiring the talent within this company founded by four former Digg employees.
The current service focusses on sentiment around movies and aims to recommend movies based on what your friends think is hot (or not). However, the straightforward functionality has been built with the intention of expanding into other verticals.
However, the intriguing question is, why might Google want to start analyzing sentiment?
Our suspicion is that it will not be part of crawling the web or used to rank websites. Instead we suspect it will help to rank places. One problem with places is that there are now too many reviews to manage.
Furthermore social check-in type services mean that much of traditional real-time popularity indicators are moving into the social web.
This creates an overflow of short-format updates data with very little context. However, in most cases each carry a lot of sentiment, which is the missing context required to make sense of a link.
Micro-reviews are also a trend to keep an eye on too -- something TripAdvisor has already implemented successfully. Using semantic analysis TripAdvisor is able to identify some common meaningful themes within all their reviews and aggregate them in a scannable format.
In many ways, the movie sentiment index on fflick achieves something similar.
If an aggregator like TripAdvisor or Google can combine sentiment analysis with semantic analysis to identify that a large percentage of the search and social audience feel a particular way about one particular aspect of a place, such as whether it serves good food, then it can provide a high dosage of 'scent' against the user's intent and facilitate their ability to reach a decision quicker -- something which is always on Google's mind (see video).
Therefore we might soon see listings that resemble fflick but in place of movie posters, is actually photos of what is on the menu or views from the room.
Update: The official announcement is here via the YouTube blog.