As the old saying goes, “The many moods of men can be captured in a fried chicken wing.” OK, I just made that up, but this much is true thanks to Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen: The moods of men can be captured by a web app, which can then recommend the appropriate spiciness of chicken wings they should eat, and even suggest appropriate mood music thanks to Spotify.
Welcome to the data-driven future. Adjust your personal privacy setting accordingly.
Mood Wing is essentially a big data app. Specifically, it leverages sentiment analysis and natural-language processing algorithms in order to determine users’ moods (spicy, mixed or mild) based on their tweets and Facebook updates. (I verified the techniques with Sean O’Brien, director of technology & innovation at Campbell Mithun, the advertising agency behind Mood Wing.) This isn’t possible, of course, without a readily accessible data set — social media updates — that provides information on how consumers are feeling. Mood Wing might not aspire to some greater goal around optimizing predictions or democratizing award systems, but that’s not the point.
It’s really about having some fun and — if you really love chicken wings — getting a good deal. You give us your personal data, we’ll give you personalized deals on chicken wings (or cell phones, or MP3 downloads or whatever else the company involved is selling). It’s like a barter system for the digital age.
Privacy, of course, is the elephant in the room when it comes to apps such as Mood Wing. Is it worth giving a fast food chain access to your personal data (even permission to post tweets on your behalf) in exchange for a witty tweet or wall post predicting how you feel? Especially if you’re in the midst of a personal tragedy, do you want to see the following tweet come through: “@yourtwitterhandle Your spiciness would make a fire stop, drop, and roll.”? (That’s a real example of what to expect.)
If Popeyes were to go a little deeper, however, and analyze the data it collects from Mood Wing to identify trends relating to mood and chicken-wing consumption, maybe the deal gets a little sweeter for everybody. If I’m clearly excited about the upcoming Super Bowl, maybe Popeyes goes beyond the mood assessment and actually offers me a great deal on wings, confident I’m more likely to take them up on it. For now, however, O’Brien says the data is only being used to determine mood and to identify advocates.
What the issue boils down to is creepiness versus utility. As my colleague Stacey Higginbotham has pointed out, the creepiness factor of certain data-based applications has the power to turn people off if privacy isn’t managed right. However, as IBM’s Jeff Jonas has predicted, even people who acknowledge the privacy concerns will line up for services that actually optimize their lives (sub req’d). We’re already seeing this debate carried out in the arenas of Google’s various services , and how much mobile data our carriers can collect and use.
Seemingly innocuous apps like Mood Wing, though, are only going to become more prevalent with the democratization of big data, and then consumers will have to make the creepy or useful calculation a lot more often. I’m not sure where Mood Wing falls on creepiness-utility spectrum, but thankfully I don’t have to care because I don’t like chicken wings.