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IBM taps social media at Australian Open

Adam Bender | Jan. 15, 2013
Twitter serves feedback on event and informs IBM when to increase capacity.

IBM and Tennis Australia, partnering for the 20th year at the Australian Open, are analysing social media not only to measure players' popularity but also to ensure there is adequate capacity to handle spikes in user activity.

IBM is analysing the "sentiment" of Twitter comments about players at the Open, according to IBM's sponsorship strategy lead, Elizabeth O'Brien.

By looking at keywords, IBM can automatically determine whether a tweet is positive or negative, she said. It can then compile the data to rank players in a social leaderboard on the Australian Open website.

The leaderboard is updated every few minutes. After the event, IBM compiles an index providing feedback on the success of the event. Tennis Australia makes use of the feedback for marketing purposes, said Tennis Australia CIO Samir Mahir.

"It's more complicated than you'd think to figure out what's a positive sentiment and what's a negative sentiment," O'Brien said. For example, the word "bad" is sometimes used in slang to mean "good."

An IBM official said context can be determined by looking at a combination of keywords in a given tweet. The system also refers to a list of slang and curse words, another official said.

Social media is also a key input into a predictive cloud provisioning technology debuting at this year's Open, O'Brien said. This "intelligent" cloud system combines social media awareness with the schedule and historical data to predict spikes in activity, automatically increasing computing power before a problem can arise.

To gauge the level of social media activity, the system scans Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs, O'Brien said.

"It's combining analytics and the cloud," she said. "It's the system actually recognising" a pattern and automatically scaling up capacity.

In addition, Tennis Australia makes use of social media in a mobile ticketing app developed with Ticketek, Mahir said. The app lets customers locate their friends in the venue.

Keeping Score

Tennis Australia uses IBM infrastructure to input score data and automatically distribute it to a variety of destinations, including scoreboards, on-site media and the Australian Open website and official smartphone app.

"We have to engage our fans whether they're here on site or viewing on TV or online," Mahir said.

It starts with the chair umpire entering each play into a "Chump", a touch-screen device with a similar size and appearance to a retail payment terminal.

A look at the Chump, used by chair umpires to enter each play.

The Chump is hardwired into the IBM network, and immediately sends the data to all the destinations. Tennis Australia believes it can get better reliability from a "good old wired network" compared to a wireless system, said Mahir.


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