Why user reviews visualization needs emotion: a proof of concept.

In the last decade many popular web and mobile services have collected huge (and precious) amounts of data about users’ opinions, which are generally expressed in form of ratings and reviews. However, the way most of these services present the data collected to their end-users is often old-fashioned and mainly consists of simple numbers and plain charts.

For instance, let’s take TripAdvisor as a test case. TripAdvisor is one of the main references worldwide for hotels and restaurants reviews, which can drive the choices of millions of travelers when visiting a new location, hence leading to a significant real-world economic impact for local businesses and associated services.

Nonetheless, the way content is presented by TripAdvisor can sometimes be confusing to the general audience. Despite having collected a considerably rich amount of data, in fact, these information are displayed using tens of numeric values associated to basic plots such as horizontal bar charts:


These visualization choices are not as immediate as they could be, and require further interpretation by the user (e.g. having 54 terrible reviews on a total of 1200 is different than having 54 terrible reviews on a total of 100, and this is not immediately reflected in the information displayed).

In the era of new data visualization techniques and infographics, something better can be done. This is precisely the motivation behind the creation of MoodAdvisor, a free web & mobile app that allows travellers to quickly visualize in a very graphical and straightforward fashion the excellency of a hotel and the the happiness of previous travelers who left a review. The former measure is based on the number of excellent and very good reviews normalized according to the total number of reviews and converted into a percentage, while the latter measure is based on state-of-the-art algorithms of sentiment analysis to interpret the affect in the reviews left on TripAdvisor for a certain location.

MoodAdvisor allows the user to search for any hotel worldwide through a simple form, then retrieves the data from TripAdvisor, computes in real-time the aforementioned values of excellency and happiness, and visualizes the results using gauges followed by colored boxes representing the latest reviews associated to simple emotions (happy, neutral, sad):


For the front end, MoodAdvisor makes use of jQuery UI + Javascript to asynchronously retrieve data and of HTML5 + Google charts to visualize the results. The back-end (data scraping and sentiment analysis) is developed using PHP.

Unfortunately, when requesting to access the official API, TripAdvisor did not approve the use MoodAdvisor did of their data since it was in violation of their Terms of Use and I was explicitly requested not to go live with my service. For this reason, MoodAdvisor was never officially launched :( However, the technology behind MoodAdvisor is fully functional and can be applied to many other web services and datasets (e.g. reviews of products on Amazon etc…). Moreover it constitutes a proof of concept on how the visualization of user ratings and reviews not only could be graphically more informative, but also should introduce novel measures, such as emotion, which are intrinsic to human communication capabilities and therefore convey information in a more efficient and straightforward way.

MoodAvisor can still be tried at moodadvisor.com, even though the results presented now are based on dummy data. I also released part of the code (data scraping from a webpage using regular expressions) on GitHub.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIN.

The top 8 free retro games for the Holiday Season (iOS and Android)

Christmas is coming! And what’s better during the holiday season than playing some festive videogames!? A popular tradition back in the ’80s and ’90s was to produce Xmas-themed games featuring festive music and our favourite pixelated heroes (if you are from that generation you might remember titles such as Holiday Lemmings or Jazz Jackrabbit). Well, this tradition is back! Here is our top list of Xmas-themed and old-style mobile games available today in the App and Play stores…

1. Droppin’ Santa (iOS Universal & Android)

Dropping Santa for iOS and AndroidDroppin’ Santa is an infinite scroller where a pixelated Santa Claus has to drop presents down the chimneys while avoiding green fireballs. The gameplay is as simple as that, yet the game is not as simple as it may sound. Fun and addictive! The game soundtrack is a mix of “We wish you a merry Christmas” and “Jingle Bells” with an original chiptune style! My personal highscore is 43 presents. What’s yours?


Play Storehttps://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=net.Betella.DroppinSanta

dropping Santa highscore iOS and Android

2. Christmas Invaders (iOS Universal & Android)

icon175x175screen568x568-1Inspired by the arcade classic Space Invaders. Tilt your device to control your Christmas Tree shooter and hit the oncoming enemies that are getting closer and closer.


Play Storehttps://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.hovelgames.invadersgame

3. Super Mega Worm Vs Santa (iOS Universal & Android)

icon175x175Guess who has been a naughty boy this Christmas? Santa and his little helpers have crossed the line and now they must pay. Join Wojira, The Great Mega Worm, as it returns in this all new adventure set in the North Pole. Crawl and eat your way through waves of elves and their evil machines as you grow and evolve into the ultimate weapon of mass destruction to become the Super Mega Worm!


Play Storehttps://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.deceasedpixel.smwxmas2


4. Flap Tap Santa (iOS Universal & Android)

icon175x175-1 screen322x572-1Yet another clone of Flappy Birds, with the addtion of a nice, Xmasy 8bit soundtrack. You (Santa) have to avoid Xmas decorations and chimneys. Each time you avoid an obstacle, a present will drop in the chimney below. Flappy Birds fans will love it!


Play Storehttps://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.nerdgames.flaptapsanta

5. Santa’s Coming (iOS Universal)

icon175x175 screen568x568Nice and fun vertical scroller where Santa Claus has to collect presents and candies while avoiding fireplaces! The game features 27 Levels (of which 12 easy & 15 hard) to ensure hours of fun!


6. Green Christmas (iOS Universal)

IMG_3934 icon175x175-1Collect the Christmas items to earn points while avoiding the coal. Little green-colored game that reminds the old ZX spectrum or Olivetti PC screens! Ideal for the nostalgics.


7. Saving Xmas (iOS Universal)

icon175x175 Help Santa to eat all the cookies. Protect children from inappropriate presents. Give Grinch ultimate K.O. in the epic battle for Christmas! Feed Rudolf to make him prepared for the Christmas night and much more! Many little games in one!



8. EightBit Santa (iOS Universal)

screen568x568 icon175x175Help Santa to collect presents and avoid obstacles while going down the chimney. A nice vertical scroller with a lovely soundtrack (that includes a real “ho ho ho”).



That’s it for now. Do you know other free and Xmas-themed retro games worth mentioning?

Cultural stereotypes retrieval from Google Autocomplete API

An American in Rome (Alberto Sordi)
A scene from the Italian movie “An American in Rome” (1954). Nando Mericoni is a young Italian living in the early ’50s in Rome. He loves the United States (that he discovers through the movies) and he tries to live like an American. The movie is a smart satire of “americanization”, plenty of stereotypes about Americans.

Stereotypes are often inconsistent generalizations based on cultural, social, sexual, linguistic, ethnic and religious differences.

Google offers an interesting autocomplete predictive algorithm that, while the user is typing, displays search queries based on millions of users’ search activities.
I developed an automatic web-based tool that allows the real-time extraction of cultural cliché and stereotypes based on Google autocomplete:


Free public APIs offered by Google and many other web services such as Facebook, Flickr and Twitter, can consitute a precious source of information since they allow to obtain extremely large and rich datasets that couldn’t be collected otherwise through standard means (e.g. questionnaires).

The cultural cliché and stereotypes retrieval tool aims to be a proof of concept of how data retrieved from the web can provide insights on human culture and beliefs (including but not limited to human ignorance and xenophobia). The results of our tool are retrieved in real time hence they cannot be previously moderated or controlled: take them with a grain of salt.

[EDIT January 2014: Google seems to have removed most of the stereotypes from the autocomplete features, therefore the Cultural stereotypes retrieval tool  is now presenting empty results in most of the cases]