In December, my PhD student Benjamin Blamey presented a joint paper entitled: R U :-) or :-( ? Character- vs. Word-Gram Feature Selection for Sentiment Classification of OSN Corpora at AI-2012, the 32nd SGAI International Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Cambridge (for which he also won the best poster prize).
Binary sentiment classification, or sentiment analysis, is the task of computing the sentiment of a document, i.e. whether it contains broadly positive or negative opinions. The topic is well-studied, and the intuitive approach of using words as classification features is the basis of most techniques documented in the literature. The alternative character n-gram language model has been applied successfully to a range of NLP tasks, but its effectiveness at sentiment classification seems to be under-investigated, and results are mixed. We present an investigation of the application of the character n-gram model to text classification of corpora from online social networks, the first such documented study, where text is known to be rich in so-called unnatural language, also introducing a novel corpus of Facebook photo comments. Despite hoping that the flexibility of the character n-gram approach would be well-suited to unnatural language phenomenon, we find little improvement over the baseline algorithms employing the word n-gram language model.