Santa Claus knows if you’ve been bad or good, but IBM knows what you’ve been tweeting.

In another example of a real world implementation of big data, IBM’s Social Sentiment Index uses big data analytics to keep a finger on the pulse of what people are thinking and feeling – maybe even if they’ve been bad or good.

IBM Canada recently used the technology to analyze the comments of thousands of Canadians in five major Canadian cities — Vancouver, Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto and Halifax – to see what common factors of discussion spanned the country. According to the vendor, the common answer was resounding: traffic congestion.

It’s not just about finding out what grinds people’s gears, however. IBM said analytics and social sentiment analysis can be used by city planners, for example, to discover commuters preferred routes, or main points of frustration, and plan efforts to mitigate them.

“The ability to effectively analyze data will define the next few decades of transportation, within cities and beyond,” said John Longbottom, Canadian smarter cities leader for IBM, in a statement. “Worldwide, cities are using these kinds of data insights to better instrument physical transportation systems with sensors or mobile phones, measure the condition of assets and detect patterns to better plan routes, schedules and optimize vehicles, equipment and facilities to expand capacity.”

According to the IBM analysis, Torontonians are the most vocal drivers in Canada, and the most negative, sending 10,000 tweets (40 per cent of them negative) over 11 months – hopefully not while driving. Parking is another point of frustration. While Canada’s largest city leads in volume, drivers in Halifax and Vancouver were more active per-capita.

While tools like IBM’s Social Sentiment Index are likely out of reach to smaller businesses, there are tools that make big data and analytics accessible to the small and medium-sized business market. And insight into what customers, or potential customers, are thinking or saying is valuable to businesses of any size.

This IBM infographic shows some statistics about tweeting commuters in other countries:

social-sentiment-commuter2

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