SAGE invests in big data analysis start-up

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SAGE Publishing has made an investment in Thusly, a technology start-up creating research tools for big data analysis of document archives. 

The investment is the first for SAGE as part of its SAGE Ocean initiative, and will support the launch of Thusly’s TagWorks crowd annotation software into the academic research market. 

TagWorks enables social science researchers to perform complex content analysis on very large document collections at up to 10 times the speed of current methods. The tool enables researchers to deeply analyse documents by asking internet-based workers a series of detailed questions to evaluate passages of text. TagWorks is currently being used to identify and report nuanced forms of misinformation in news articles such as ‘exaggerated metaphor,’ and ‘confusion of correlation and causation.’  

Thusly was co-founded by Nick Adams, a sociologist and former research scientist at the Berkeley Institute for Data Science, and Norman Gilmore, a software developer with a long term interest in citizen science. The idea for TagWorks was born when Adams’s research posed the challenge of closely annotating nearly 10,000 news articles describing events of the Occupy movement. 

'Wherever researchers have big data in the form of documents – whether that's government archives, newspaper data, court transcripts, or meeting minutes – they have data that has, until now, been practically inaccessible, said Adams, who is CEO of Thusly. 'TagWorks will open up new horizons for social science. Analyzing big archives used to mean training waves of research assistants, and content analysis projects would stretch on for years. Now, hundreds of internet-based analysts can work on a project with no face-to-face training, meaning a job that would have taken a decade can be completed in a matter of months. What’s more, researchers don't have to choose between quantitative and qualitative data, they can have both. Access to such big, rich data enables us to ask and answer complex questions we couldn’t before.'

SAGE Ocean was launched earlier this year to support social scientists working with big data and new technologies. TagWorks joins its growing portfolio of products, which also includes social data science e-learning platform, SAGE Campus.

Katie Metzler, executive head of methods innovation at SAGE, added: 'This investment is an example of the type innovation we want to catalyse with SAGE Ocean. Software like this needs investment and incubation to make it from an inventor's sketchpad into the hands of social scientists. This is an important milestone for us as we build a portfolio of new products to meet the evolving needs of social science researchers working in the age of big data.'

TagWorks’ first customers include the Public Editor Project from Goodly Labs, a California-based non-profit evaluating thousands of news articles for social good projects (SAGE announced a sponsorship of Public Editor earlier this year) and the History Lab at Columbia University, which is using TagWorks with National Science Foundation support to annotate and curate U.S. State Department cables.