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Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Mining Amazon To Measure Literary Tastes

Amazon.com, according to Dartmouth professor Mikhail Gronas, has opened a door to new avenues of literary study. According to him, there are volumes of as-yet unexplored, non-professional literary criticism at this popular website, in the form of customer reviews, which are ripe for academic scrutiny.

Science Daily reports, Gronas, an Assistant Professor of Russian Language and Literature, wants to know why people read certain books, what drives those reading decisions, and what lies behind readers' reactions. Sociological surveys are fine, he says, but the answers are shaped by the questions. With online book reviews, like those at Amazon.com, he can begin to get a quantitative measure of taste (from the number of stars assigned by readers to a book) along with a qualitative assessment (from the personal commentary provided by readers). "Amazon.com book reviews are not based on literary theory," he says. "They are written by everyday readers, not scholars, who bring a new perspective to the topic of taste. Since online reviews are voluntary, they offer honest opinions that aren't prompted by specific questions."The second part of Gronas' work involves digging deeper into the reviews to understand the more qualitative or subjective elements of literary taste. "It's generally believed that people with emotional tastes are separate from people with intellectual tastes, that these two characteristics can't reside in the same person," he says. "In the Amazon.com book reviews, I often saw both of these elements of taste illustrated in the same commentary of a reviewer. One person can exhibit a hybrid of tastes." Gronas says that the online review community is a virtually untapped wealth of information that provides insight into what shapes opinions and cultural preferences. Individual choices and judgments have been studied by economists and social scientists. Amazon.com adds another dimension to this field by providing a new pool of data to examine."I am introducing a palpable, probabilistic approach to literary criticism. That's what makes it fun."
My TAKE:Cool .. The time for using online community data for secondary and tertiary analysis has come.. Ultimaltely online analysis range and coverage shall encompass the complete scope in brick and mortar world and provide many more patterns based operational data and historical data.

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