The EconoMining Project at NYU: Studying the Economic Value of User-Generated Content on the Internet

An important use of the internet today is in providing a platform for consumers to disseminate information about products and services they buy, and share experiences about the merchants with whom they transact. Increasingly, online markets develop into social shopping channels, and facilitate the creation of online communities and social networks. Till date, businesses, government organisations and customers have not fully incorporated such information in their decision making and policy formulation processes, either because the potential value of the intellectual capital or appropriate techniques for measuring that value have not been identified. Increasingly, although, this publicly available digital content has concrete economic value that is often hidden beneath the surface. For example, online product reviews affect the buying behaviour of customers, as well as the volume of sales, positively or negatively. Similarly, user feedback on sites such as eBay and Amazon affect the reputation of online merchants and, in turn, their ability to sell their products and services. Our research on the EconoMining project studies the economic value of user-generated content in such online settings. In our research program, we combine established techniques from economics and marketing with text mining algorithms from computer science to measure the economic value of each text snippet. In this paper, we describe the foundational blocks of our techniques, and demonstrate the value of user-generated content in a variety of areas, including reputation systems and online product reviews, and we present examples of how such areas are of immediate importance to the travel industry.