Bluefin Labs mixes science and media, and what they’re doing will blow your mind

I just had coffee with Tom Thai, who runs marketing at Bluefin Labs, which is one of the most exciting companies I’ve come across in a long time. Bluefin sells a social TV analytics service that tracks what people are saying on Facebook, Twitter and other social sites about the shows and commercials they see on TV.

It’s extraordinarily powerful stuff and it’s catching on like crazy. Bluefin is still a pretty young company — its first product was launched last August and the company has only 45 employees — but they’ve already signed up more than 40 TV networks as customers, which is basically everybody in the US.

Bluefin is also now reaching out to ad agencies and in some cases directly to brands, which can use Bluefin to see what people are saying about the commercials. Customers include PepsiCo, Kraft, Mars and Estee Lauder. It’s a subscription model. You pay based on the number of seats you’re using.

The power of Bluefin is that networks and advertisers can listen to their customers and respond by reshaping sitcoms or changing ad campaigns based on what you’re hearing. Another place where there will be huge and obvious impact is political campaigns. This fall’s election will be a big test of Bluefin’s capabilities.

Bluefin grew out of a project at MIT that uses incredibly sophisticated machine intelligence and was originally intended to sift through massive amounts of data to study language acquisition. Deb Roy, the co-founder and CEO, is a tenured faculty member at MIT and director of the Cognitive Machines Group inside the MIT Media Lab. He created the algorithms as part of what he called the “Human Speechome Project.”

If you want to learn more, you can check out a very good article in MIT’s Technology Review about Bluefin.

And if you want to have your mind blown, go see Deb Roy’s talk from the TED conference in March 2011. He brought down the house, and deservedly so.