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Rising gas prices fire up bloggers

By David E. Williams
CNN

Editor's note: Umbria Communications collects and analyzes postings from millions of weblogs to find out what is being discussed in the blogosphere and who is engaging in discussion.

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Gas prices rose more than 50 cents over the 12 week period.

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(CNN) -- Surging gas prices have sparked debates at the water cooler, on Wall Street and in the halls of Congress, and Internet researchers say it's also a hot topic in the blogosphere.

The marketing research firm Umbria Communications, in partnership with CNN.com, studied blog postings published between the weeks of March 12 and May 28, and found that the number of mentions of gas prices increased by more than 45 percent -- from 4,032 mentions/million posts to 5,865 mentions/million.

To put those numbers in perspective, the XBox -- Microsoft's popular gaming system -- got 11,053 mentions/million in a recent week, while eBay got 7,310 mentions/million and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton had 1,439 mentions/million. (See charts from Umbriaexternal link)

The increase in mentions tended to follow the change in gas prices, which rose about 50 cents during that period, but there were some spikes in the discussion.

The number jumped to 8,421 mentions/million during the week ending May 7, the week after Senate Republicans proposed an energy plan that included giving most taxpayers a $100 gas rebate and Congressional leaders called for a price gouging investigation. President Bush also said he wanted to increase automobile fuel efficiency standards and Exxon Mobil reported $8.4 billion in profits for the first quarter of the year.

Blogging on gas prices peaked at 8,764 mentions/million during the week ending May 21, as bloggers reacted to General Motors' plan to offer subsidized gas in California and Florida to buyers of big SUVs like the Chevrolet Suburban, GMC Yukon and the Hummer H2 and H3. People were also discussing the impact of gas prices on their Memorial Day travel plans.

Umbria President Howard Kaushansky said his company collects millions of published blog post in a data warehouse, so that the company's analysts can look for trends.

He compared it to a public opinion survey -- only without the survey.

"By merely listening in on tens of millions of bloggers out there, there are now close to 40 million bloggers, we can identify what's on people's minds, what they talk about in an unprompted manner," Kaushansky said.

Gen Y driving the debate

Umbria uses speech patterns to determine the age and gender of blog posters and divides the blogger population into three age groups:

  • Boomers -- born between 1946-1964
  • Generation X -- born between 1965 -1978
  • Generation Y -- born after 1979
  • Kaushansky said male boomers tend to dominate political discussion, but that wasn't the case with gas prices.

    Members of Generation Y made up almost 55 percent of the blogging population during the week ending May 28, but they made up more than 69 percent of the posts on the subject.

    Boomer males, on the other hand, made up 13 percent of that population, but made just 10 percent of the posts.

    "I would have thought that gas prices was sort of an across the board issue for people, but it seems like it's a more younger issue and more young people are talking about it and talking about it more negatively," Kaushansky said.

    Umbria director of product management Michael Sevilla said gas prices were cutting into the discretionary spending for members of Generation Y -- many of whom were just getting started in their careers, going to college, or still living with their parents.

    "Although they did not directly say it, they alluded to the fact that now a larger percentage of their meager dollars had to go to gas," Sevilla said. "And that means less driving around to visit friends and fewer dollars to buy things."

    Looking for the positives

    Kaushansky said he was surprised that the study found a substantial number of positive comments about gas prices.

    For example, during the week ending March 12, there were 1,056 negative mentions of gas prices/million and 945 positive mentions. The remaining 2,031 mentions were either neutral, or too vague to determine the sentiment.

    But Kaushansky said that doesn't mean people were happy to pay more.

    Some posts argued it was good for the free market to run its course, even if it meant paying more for gas, he said. Others said that if it was OK for Derek Jeter to make millions playing baseball and Julia Roberts to get big paychecks for being in movies, then there was nothing wrong with Exxon Mobil's $8 billion profit.

    He said other positive posts came from people who were happy that they bought a hybrid or met a new friend on the bus.

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