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IBM to analyze digital scuttlebutt

By analyzing blogs and news sources, IBM will track the public image of corporations.

IBM said it is developing an application to analyze how discussions on blogs and other Web sites are affecting a given corporation's image.

The computing giant on Monday described a service, called the Public Image Monitoring Solution, that searches through reams of blogs, news stories and other material to distill useful information for companies.

IBM is testing the application with its partners and the Morgan Stanley financial services firm. The new service would draw on IBM's text analytics and search software, WebSphere Information Integration OmniFind Edition.

IBM originally developed OmniFind to index and search information that resides within corporate networks. But it found that some customers were keen on learning what outsiders were saying on the Web about a given corporation, said Marc Andrews, IBM's director of strategy and business development for unstructured information.

"Organizations are struggling to understand what people are saying about them in public," said Andrews. "That ends up having an impact on opinion and buying decisions."

Andrews on Monday demonstrated a prototype where a marketing department of an automotive firm could search through blogs, news stories and newsgroups to gauge consumer feelings.

The Web-based program could cull results on the topic of fuel efficiency from various sources and generate reports by categorizing the information. If many consumers or news stories are making negative comments about a product, for example, a marketing person would know and could react, Andrews explained.

A typical Web search engine returns instances of a word within a page. But the OmniFind software analyzes text to improve search results and automatically categorize them, Andrews said. For example, a search for a person's name and "phone" would return phone numbers, not just instances including the word phone.

The product could also be customized to search through a specific type of information source, such as news articles, or to categorize data in a predefined way.

IBM is working on the application with text analytics firms Factiva and NStein. The financial services firm Morgan Stanley has voiced interest in using the software to track the public image of some companies tracked by Morgan Stanley analysts, Andrews said.