Social networking, blogs and other forms of Internet content are generating a tidal wave of opinions on subjects topical and obscure. Usually, the vast majority of these opinions are ignored, dismissed as having little value. But some argue these opinions, if aggregated, sifted and analyzed correctly, could offer valuable insights into the public's perception and mood on individual companies, people and products.

Seth Grimes, founder of consulting firm Alta Plana, says that so-called "sentiment analysis" offered by several technology companies involves sophisticated algorithms intended to listen to customers and understand what they're saying and in what context. "For brand and reputational management this is a real growth area," he says. In the case of financial services "there's a lot of opinions about sales and bonuses, and an organization might want to factor that into how they present themselves."

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