The future of attitude

In the old days, well…. even today, we understood attitudes and opinions through surveys. Over the past year I’ve been involved in designing and developing a project that would allow us to identify global attitudinal changes through volunteered web data. The future of attitude, we argue, is discoverable through what people say and do online.

The project, which we’ve called The Global Attitude and Opinion Project, is a big one. So far we are dealing with 2500 data access points. That means 2500 points where we collect data and the actual data itself of course numbers in the millions.

We did a couple of early run throughs on this kind of data by examining a couple of high profile events. These were:

The launch of the first Google Android phone, the HTC 1. In that project (you can download the exec summary here or read about it at we were dealing with over 1 million pieces of data which we sampled rather than investigated en masse. The sampling showed us how, for example, HTC’s efforts to publicise the Android phone, even with the backing of Google, were completely swamped online by continuing references to the Apple iPhone. The iPhone represents a peculiarity of web opinion. Web opinion is herd-like and can move rapidly between poles that attract it. In this case we tried to understand how popularity works online and what it means for our understanding of how business should address markets where it wants or faces popularity.


Exploring attitudes and opinions around recession and recovery. For this we used semantic clustering technology which we trialed by contrasting editorial commentary around recession and recovery and blog comments on the same subjects. This project taught us that people comment in ways that are quite different from how professionals create commentary. For example blog comments were much more likely than editorial to focus on personality, interpreting events through the personalities of Obama and Brown. It’s one of the reasons we think the iPhone succeeds as phenomenally as it does – because of the cult of personality around Steve Jobs.

Those possibilities are what we set out to explore further in the global project. For the Global Attitude and Opinion Project we have clustered 15 sets of terms that identify attitudinal perspectives that might have an impact on commercial activity – the might is provisional but of course we DO expect these attitudes to have an impact.

I’ll be reporting on these pretty regularly as we are now getting the first streams of data back. Here though are two examples:

We appear to be experiencing a new age of religious fundamentalism. It is undeniable. Yet at the same time people are adopting ecological models for how the world works – for example the language of business eco-systems and organizational commons have become more common.

The point about these terms is that they present a model of history that is quite different from what we are accustomed to. We are accustomed to operating with a model of history dominated by the idea of progress and of human betterment. Cyclical ecologies are antithetical to progress models. What this means, we think, is that alongside fundamentalism is a growing belief in long-wave cyclical change. People are adapting to a world where there is significant decline – and we see a new generation of self help channels emerging to deal with this.

The second is:

The drift towards freely donated labor. Over the past two decades organised labor has been in retreat. However, in open source projects labor is donated. What does this tell us about the wider world of work and the attitudes people bring to the workplace?

I’ll be back soon with more.

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