nicolas leroy

Getting product reviews when shopping in-store

December 23, 2008

Read on EurekAlert, a research portal:

Scientists at Toshiba’s Corporate Research and Development Center, in Japan have developed a system that offers shoppers advice on what to buy based on the product barcode and the current weblog buzz around the gadget. […] Takahiron Kawamura and colleagues have developed WOM (word-of-mouth) Scouter to allow shoppers to get the latest reviews for a product they are looking to buy simply while they are in store. The process involves taking a photo of the item’s barcode with a cell phone camera. The WOM Scouter then looks up the item’s meta data via the internet and gathers information from blogs and websites that review the product.

The WOM Scouter than uses natural language processing (NLP) techniques to analyze what blogs it collated are saying about the product and provides a straightforward positive or negative opinion on the product’s reputation. Even the most confused shopper can make an informed decision on that basis, knowing that the blogosphere will support their choice.

The Toshiba team has tested WOM Scouter in a consumer electronics store and in a book store and suggest that the system represents a case of semantics used to provide an instant bene?t in a mobile computing environment. In essence, WOM Scouter is one of the first web 3.0 applications that utilises the fundamentals of the original web connectivity, the social media aspects of web 2.0, and provides a service based on the meaning, or semantics, of the data it handles.

I haven’t been able to read the full article published in the “Intl Journal of Metadata, Semantics and Ontologies” (I suppose I should pay the €30 to get the full article :) ), but here is the abstract:

In this paper, we introduce a mobile service that extracts reputations of a product from weblogs by cellular phones during shopping. In a mobile computing environment, it would be desirable for users to bind their real-world situation and useful information on the internet. However, the current typical devices for mobile computing, such as cellular phones, have small displays, limited operations, and narrow-band network. Thus, semantics can be useful in order to extract only the necessary information depending on the users’ situation. Word-Of-Mouth (WOM) Scouter is an application for this purpose. If the user takes a photo of a product barcode on the package with a cellular phone camera, WOM Scouter first gets the product metadata (name, manufacturer, etc.) from the internet and collects blogs that review the product. Also, it analyses the blog contents with NLP techniques and ontologies. Then, it indicates the overall reputation (positive or negative), and other related products that are the subject of much discussion in the blogs. This paper illustrates each function of this service and a public experiment and evaluation at a real consumer electronics store and book-store in Tokyo in March 2006. This is a case of semantics use to provide an instant benefit in a mobile computing environment.

Overall, this seems rather impressive; but I’m wondering what is the real added value compared to existing solutions. There are many solutions available (even open-source ones) to recognize barcodes from a photo ; there are several review aggregators, some of them having developed semantic analysis to compute overall reputation of a product… So is WOM-Scouter only a nice mash-up, or does it feature a truly innovative semantic solution? Maybe I should spend those €30…