IBM has released a tool that trawls the web to see what emoticons people are using.
The feature is part of IBM's new text mining and analytics software, SPSS Modeler 14 Premium Edition.
SPSS Modeler allows businesses to see what users are saying about their products and services on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks – including the emoticons they use.
The smiley faces, created using combinations of punctuation marks, are used to convey emotions in text entered on the Internet. Although frowned on by many users, they’re a staple of conversation online – especially among the young.
IBM reckons it's vital that businesses understand the slang and emoticons young people use – not only because of the massive value of the youth market, but because their colloquialisms will soon become part of mainstream language.
Erick Brethenoux, IBM's head of predictive analytics, told IT mag Information Week: "Many slang terms, acronyms and text messaging usages of terms… are gaining adoption as members of Gen-Y are becoming consumers and entering the workforce."
"Emoticons are now part of what people write," Brethenoux added. "They are very important because they convey emotions that text, by itself, does not."