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Military-grade IBM kit senses love, hate in Wimbo fans' tweets

'Sentiment analysis' served at high speed

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Although Andy Murray lost to Roger Federer at Wimbledon this month, he managed to ace the pair's Twitter contest.

Britain’s best tennis hope since Fred Perry didn't just feature in more tweets than his Swiss rival, he also surfed a tidal wave of plaudits on the social networking site.

More than 490,000 tweets mentioned Murray, of which 42 per cent were positive, compared to Federer’s 487,000, of which just 29 per cent were favourable.

The data comes courtesy of IBM, which for just over two decades has run the IT behind Wimbledon. This year branched out into a new area: analysis of watching fans’ “sentiment” by analysing tweets.

IBM inside Wimbledon 1, photo: Gavin Clarke

Back of the net: IBM's Wimbledon team monitor the website and SlamTracker on-site

IBM harvested tweets between 20 June and 11 July, and waded through 1.3 million messages from the day of the Murray-Federer final alone. The result: 1GB of data in an IBM DB2 database. That isn't a lot by web standards, or even USB or hard drive standards, but it was data that Big Blue considered important enough to bring in the big guns – IBM Content Analytics (ICA) with Enterprise Search, deployed at Wimbledon for the first time.

The US Army is among ICA's users and used the tech in a massive documents management overhaul.

Alan Flack, IBM’s programme executive for Wimbledon, told The Reg the sentiment analysis test with the military-grade ICA was a "learning exercise". Other Big Blue teams working for sports events backed by the company's kit will be able to build on knowledge gained at Wimbledon this year.

“We will share some insights with the client, and amongst the IBM team, but this test was really aimed at building something that could be used for other organisations and brands,” he said. “Feedback about the event and the players could both be useful and interesting."

IBM provides analytics for other sports: for example, it announced the Leicester Tigers rugby club has started using the company's SPSS Modeller to predict players' performance and spot potential injuries.

The computer giant became the official IT supplier to the All England Lawn Tennis Club and Wimbledon Championships in 1990. Since then the competition has migrated to IBM’s servers, software, code and its cloud.

A very grand Slam

One of the most visible applications is IBM SlamTracker, a system that dishes out match information to the media and watching public. The facts and figures are served to display boards, the Wimbledon website and its native iOS and Android smartphone apps.

SlamTracker holds Grand Slam tennis records dating back seven years - 39 million data points in total - on players and matches. The information is recalled using IBM’s SPSS predictive analytics software. Data points are fed into SlamTracker using a combination of court-side humans tapping on a specially built tennis app and electronic monitoring.

In 2011 IBM began testing SecondSight on court 18. This technology captures players’ movements, tracks their position and can recreate it in 3D on-screen. SecondSight is for players, coaches, commentators and fans, and was this year rolled out to the Centre Court - where the Murray-Federer final was played.

Data for SlamTracker and SecondSight sits in an IBM DB2 database running on Linux that's part of the Wimbledon Information System, which is on-site in the grounds of the All England Lawn Tennis Club.

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