Can Social Analytics Predict the Headlines Before They’re Written?

Social analytics firm Topsy has released a new version of its Pro Analytics platform. With enhanced alerts and geo-inference features, said Topsy's Jamie deGuerre, "you can get an early signal about things that are going to become news before they become news, before they appear as articles on the Web."

Social analytics firm Topsy has released a new version of its Pro Analytics platform. With enhanced alerts and geo-inference features, the tool is designed to pick up on trending topics and people before they hit the newsstands.

Founded in 2002, Topsy is an index of the public social web that pulls data from millions of websites, blogs and social media sites.

Starting today, real-time alerts will also allow you to define the thresholds for any topic that you’re interested in, such as “Zynga” or “Barack Obama.”  Topsy calculates the average number of tweets on that topic and can notify you in an email when the conversation starts to change around that trend.

The emails will tell you which threshold was exceeded, the current number of conversations, and top Tweets that made the topic go viral.  Zynga, for instance, might have released a new game or announced its latest quarterly report. Either of these events could turn up in conversation online, but the conversations could be very different in terms of sentiment and audience.

According to Topsy’s Jamie deGuerre, the email alerts are much more timely than Google alerts because they are limited to what’s happening in social media as opposed to an overall internet crawler, which can take several hours to pick up.

The geo-inference feature can detect where a tweet is coming from even if the user hasn’t specified his or her location. Users choose whether to provide their locations when they tweet, deGuerre explained, and although they do opt to share this information in 4 to 8 million Tweets per day, that’s still a fairly small percentage of the overall number of Tweets. “You’re looking at a small subset of the population,” he said.

Topsy combines a number of factors — like the location listed in a user’s profile, the contents of their tweets, their check-ins through location apps, and information inside their photographs — to determine where the tweet is coming from on a national and state level. Topsy locates 25 times as many Tweets this way.

Rather than simply noting a sudden spike in traffic, the company hopes that the tool will answer specific questions about trending topics in different locations, like “What are voters saying about Romney and Obama in the swing states?” and give brands or publishers a chance to react in a timely manner.

“Based on social conversation,” said deGuerre, “you can get an early signal about things that are going to become news before they become news, before they appear as articles on the Web.”