The Database of Emotions

I had a great conversation with a friend today (Sree Nagarajan, founder + CEO at social media research platform Colligent) that gave me a new handle on the threat that Facebook poses to Google.

We were talking about what Colligent does, which is to allow any brand to measure and track their relative affinity with any other brand. It does this by sifting the public declarations and affiliations of more than 225 million consumer profiles across Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. As Sree put it, “brands are all about emotion, and we allow brands to quantify that emotion in order to make better business decisions.”

For some reason this description reminded me of John Battelle’s brilliant description of Google (and search engines more broadly) as a “Database of Intentions”:

“The Database of Intentions is simply this: The aggregate results of every search ever entered, every result list ever tendered, and every path taken as a result. It lives in many places, but three or four places in particular hold a massive amount of this data (ie MSN, Google, and Yahoo). This information represents, in aggregate form, a place holder for the intentions of humankind – a massive database of desires, needs, wants, and likes that can be discovered, supoenaed, archived, tracked, and exploited to all sorts of ends.”

John Battelle – The Database of Intentions

The ‘aha’ for me in Sree’s description is that the Social Web amounts to a parallel universe to the one Battelle describes:

If search is a Database of Intentions then Social is a Database of Emotions 

Instead of cataloging peoples’ current desires, the aggregated universe of tweets, ‘Likes’, URLs and hashtags flowing through the Social Web captures a less immediate but emotionally vastly richer set of data, the constantly-changing moods and emotional ties of millions of consumers, much of it directly connected to specific brands, locations and events. No single social platform can claim a monopoly on this emotional datastore; Facebook is clearly the largest, but Twitter now claims over 200 million members and even the fading star of MySpace contains the world’s most complete database of consumers’ self-declared musical affinities.

Because Emotion is both more complex and less immediate than Intention, the paths to monetizing the Database of Emotions are nowhere near as clear and obvious as they are in Search. But if you accept the massive private valuations currently assigned to Twitter and Facebook as reasonable proxies for investor belief, the potential economic value represented by the Emotional datastore is as large – if not larger – than Intention.

The complexity inherent in the Emotion opportunity is good news for investors and entrepreneurs alike. Facebook has made significant progress in building an ad engine on top of its Emotional flow, but Twitter is still finding its way, and no single platform holds as clear a monopoly on Emotion as Google has maintained in the realm of Intention, leaving plenty of room for third parties to play.