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Product reviews in the palm of your hand

Photonics Spectra
Mar 2009
Laura S. Marshall, laura.marshall@laurin.com

TOKYO – With so many options to choose from, how do you pick the best digital camera? You could close your eyes and point, ask your friends for recommendations, or stand there in the store while the salesperson drones on and on. But how can you be sure your index finger, your friends and your friendly neighborhood sales associate are reliable?

You also could try checking blogs for product reviews, but it can be daunting to face the massive amounts of information available online. And if you’re already in the store, blog-surfing might not be an option.

But you could use the WOM Scouter, which would do the surfing for you.

“WOM” stands for “word of mouth,” and the system, developed by scientists at Toshiba’s Corporate Research and Development Center in Tokyo, “extracts and summarizes word-of-mouth information from Weblogs,” according to Shinichi Nagano, research scientist at the center.

All you have to do is take a photo of a product’s bar code with your cell phone, and the WOM Scouter program sends the bar code information to a server, which determines the product name and manufacturer. Then it finds blogs commenting on the product.

PNBarCode_Phone.jpg

Once the blogs are located, the WOM Scouter returns to the user with information that is vital to decision-making, including an overall product rating, positive or negative, of the target product; a list of competitive products getting buzz on the blogs; and selected useful blogs worth reading in full.

You can even specify which features are most important to you, and the system will return results based on your input. “For instance, you can find the car that has the best reputation for fuel efficiency among Weblog communities,” Nagano said.

To run the WOM Scouter, cell phones would have to be equipped with either embedded Java runtime or BREW runtime, Nagano said, and they would have to be able to take pictures. The system has been tested in a consumer electronics store and in a bookstore but is not yet available on the market.

Nagano and associates don’t expect the WOM Scouter to be a complete replacement for sales associates.

“We believe feedback that sales professionals provide to be as important as ever,” said Nagano. “That’s because opinions published on Weblogs are not absolutely useful for every end user.”

Indeed, store owners and operators could use the WOM Scouter themselves to aid in stocking decisions and sales campaign planning. “Public evaluation of the products that the retailers deal in would be helpful for their marketing activities like sales strategies and product planning,” Nagano said.


GLOSSARY
digital camera
A camera that converts a collected image into pixels that are black or white digital or shades of gray. The digital data may then be manipulated to enhance or otherwise modify the resulting viewed image.
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