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Measuring Real Time Public Opinion With Twitter

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the bloop-bleep-treacle-tweet-thurp-twaddle dept.

Social Networks 54

Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times reports that statisticians from the University of Vermont are hoping to harness the stream of messages flowing through Twitter to read public opinion and sentiment in real time. '"Twitter is a reflection of what people are interested in right now," says Peter Dodds, adding that the goal is to establish an index, akin to the Dow Jones industrial average, that can "give an overall sense of how a collective body of people are feeling at any given point in time.' Dodds says he and his colleagues are analyzing about 1,000 tweets each minute, or about a million a day, looking for trends in descriptive words and phrases that indicate moods and emotions. In addition, the two can monitor the public reaction to news or policy announcement and track it over time. The tool is still in its early stages, but eventually Dodds hopes that it could work similarly to Google Flu Trends, a Web tool that doubles as an early-warning system for flu outbreaks by detecting spikes in certain search terms. Since relationships and conversations are so intrinsic to how people communicate on Twitter, the researchers hope that observing how one user's mood is affected by another might shed some light on crowd behavior and emotional contagion. 'All of this data serves as a remote sensor of well-being,' Dodds says."

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54 comments

Won't work for long (2, Insightful)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 4 years ago | (#29077269)

Wait until the astroturfers and lobyists discover this.

Re:Won't work for long (3, Insightful)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 4 years ago | (#29077293)

Wait until the astroturfers and lobyists discover this

They already have. But it's irrelevent, Twitter has or is near peaking. As soon as "the next big thing" hits the scene, Twitter will fade, like ICQ and all the rest of the chat "communities".

"public" opinion? (5, Insightful)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 4 years ago | (#29077385)

Or the collected opinions of twits, er twitterers, twats, or whatever. It's a self-selected group, whose collective opinions are no more representative of the general public (or voters or any other subset of the general public) than, say, the opinions of slashdotters. And although there is much drivel on slashdot, I suspect it is nothing compared to the twaddle on twitter.

Re:"public" opinion? (5, Insightful)

freedomlinux (1072142) | more than 4 years ago | (#29077533)

Is anyone else thinking "selection bias"?

How can Twitter users be a representative sample of the public as a whole? And I don't even want to think about issues with geographical context...

Re:"public" opinion? (1)

FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) | more than 4 years ago | (#29077717)

Absolutely. Even if everyone using the internet was regularly on Twitter voicing their opinions, that would still leave millions of people's opinions off the survey- people who don't use computers or can't afford to. Those people still vote and consume.

Selection Bias (1)

j-stroy (640921) | more than 4 years ago | (#29079099)

I'm reminded of watching a documentary on ex-pres Reagan's speeches being realtime tracked with "satisfaction knobs" by focus group members, allowing specific words and phrases to be chosen for future speeches for certain demographics. Reagan said "A thousand stars", Bush Sr said " A thousand points of light" and so on.

So that Selection Bias can equate to a target demographic.

I expect a pay per tweet model to be offered as an incentive, for instance as a rebate against cell phone charges within certain demographics, at certain times ie elections or by "lottery", soliciting participation with a text message.

/quick patent this in my name please. available for business model consultation.

Re:"public" opinion? (1)

BrokenHalo (565198) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080197)

How can Twitter users be a representative sample of the public as a whole?

Easily, provided that you are prepared to accept the basic premise that the public as a whole has the attention span of a flea.

Oh wait...

Re:"public" opinion? (4, Informative)

negRo_slim (636783) | more than 4 years ago | (#29077753)

I suspect it is nothing compared to the twaddle on twitter.

Depends on who you follow try SciAm's current recommendations: science writer carlzimmer, evolutionary biologist Jonathan Eisen phylogenomics, theoretical physicist seanmcarroll, science writer RebeccaSkloot, NASA astronaut Mike Massimino Astro_Mike, or astronomer Phil Plait BadAstronomer

Re:"public" opinion? (2, Interesting)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 4 years ago | (#29078279)

I suspect it is nothing compared to the twaddle on twitter.

Depends on who you follow try SciAm's current recommendations: science writer carlzimmer, evolutionary biologist Jonathan Eisen phylogenomics, theoretical physicist seanmcarroll, science writer RebeccaSkloot, NASA astronaut Mike Massimino Astro_Mike, or astronomer Phil Plait BadAstronomer

Actually, I visit Phil Plait's sites regularly, and really like his material (http://www.badastronomy.com/index.html and http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy [discovermagazine.com]).
His tweets are a different matter entirely - twaddle, and inescapably so due to the limitations of tweeting (what a pathetic term). You can find his twaddle at http://twitter.com/BadAstronomer [twitter.com]. I encourage you to contemplate how poor a communication medium twitter really is, when it reduces someone with the aptitude and knowledge of Phil Plait to producing twaddle.
Now contemplate how intensely boring/stupid/inane the twaddle of a less gifted twitterer must be. Collectively, it's electronic flatulence - an outpouring of brainfarts.

Re:"public" opinion? (1)

peipas (809350) | more than 4 years ago | (#29077771)

Or the collected opinions of twits, er twitterers, twats, or whatever.

I was just thinking perhaps a spinoff called Twatter could be created for mates to communicate with each other when using natural birth control or trying to get pregnant. Actually, it appears somebody may have already jumped on [twatter.com] this idea.

Re:Won't work for long (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29082017)

Companies have been doing this for years already. You can try it out yourself here [techrigy.com]

Sweet, now Obama can waffle in real-time! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29083271)

That will be fucking hilarious to watch!

Obama, 10:27am: Shut down the investigation into Black Panther voter intimidation.
Obama, 10:28am: Reopen the investigation into Black Panther voter intimidation.
Obama: 10:29am: Shut down the investigation into Black Panther voter intimidation. ...

Re:Won't work for long (1)

stripmarkup (629598) | more than 4 years ago | (#29083983)

They already have. Check out our site, http://trendistic.com/ [trendistic.com] . We have been tracking trends on Twitter for the past year, and we've seen all sorts of phenomena, from grassroots campaigns: http://trendistic.com/iranelection/_90-days [trendistic.com] 5o get-followers-quick spam, politics, etc. http://trendistic.com/followers/_180-days [trendistic.com] (click anywhere on the chart to see what people were saying at the time).

I just wrote on twitter (2, Funny)

ls671 (1122017) | more than 4 years ago | (#29077275)

I just wrote on twitter about my opinion about harnessing the stream of messages flowing through twitter to read public opinion and sentiment in real time.

Re:I just wrote on twitter (1)

plover (150551) | more than 4 years ago | (#29077507)

I just wrote on twitter about my opinion about harnessing the stream of messages flowing through twitter to read public opinion and sentiment in real time.

Yes, but did you then harness your tweet to measure public opinion? What do you think the guy meant by tweeting about measuring sentiment via twitter?

what up dawg (1)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 4 years ago | (#29077701)

I hear you like twiting, so we built a twiter with twats built in so that you can twit while something or ohter.

Re:I just wrote on twitter (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080477)

I just wrote on twitter about my opinion about harnessing the stream of messages flowing through twitter to read public opinion and sentim

There. Fixed it for you. If 140 characters is enough to express an idea on Twitter, it should be good enough for Slashdot.

Public Twitter opinion only 98% inane (4, Funny)

David Gerard (12369) | more than 4 years ago | (#29077281)

Only 98% of Twitter updates are "pointless babble," says a new report [today.com] that studied 2,000 tweets over a period of two weeks.

The top category was "pointless babble" tweets, with nearly 98% of tweets being inanity no sane person could want to read, retweets of inanity, links to inanity, retweets of links to inanity and retweets of retweets of links to links to the reretweet itself. And camera phone pictures of bowel movements on Twitpic.

Almost 2% was Stephen Fry, Neil Gaiman or retweets thereof and the rest was Warren Ellis posting scatological abuse of his fans.

Botnet command messages were becoming more popular, many disguised as combinations of the syllables "lol" "wtf" "d00d" "RT" and "#fb" or scatological abuse of Warren Ellis's fans.

Twitter's demographics as of June 2009 were 55% female, 43% ages 18 to 34, 78% white, and 99.5% of such short attention spans that Facebook might as well be War and Peace. Botnet readership was considered likely to rise as soon nothing with organic intelligence would be able to cope.

Twitter recently redesigned its homepage, changing the tag "What are you doing now?" to "Post tomorrow's CNN headlines, particularly about #goatse."

Re:Public Twitter opinion only 98% inane (1)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 4 years ago | (#29077481)

Only 98% of Twitter updates are "pointless babble,"

I find this hard to believe. Pointless babble must exceed 100%, as many twitters manage to concentrate extreme stupidity into such short bursts. Stupidity so dense it collapses into a black hole of primordial stupidity - detectable but unintelligible.

Twitter's demographics as of June 2009 were ... 99.5% of such short attention spans that Facebook might as well be War and Peace.

Only 99.5%? Another gross underestimate. That "report" must have been written by shills exaggerating the intellectual side of twitter.

Re:Public Twitter opinion only 98% inane (1)

tenco (773732) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080401)

Stupidity so dense it collapses into a black hole of primordial stupidity - detectable but unintelligible.

Mini black holes. Then again, it's entropy maybe so high that we have to drop the prefix.

Re:Public Twitter opinion only 98% inane (1)

plover (150551) | more than 4 years ago | (#29077593)

You might be on to something. Maybe he's measuring the amount of "stupid" on the internet, so if stupidity ever drops below 99.9% saturation, it might mean something's up.

Of course, anything that would catch the interest of most of the tweeters still has a 99.9% chance of being useless anyway.

Re:Public Twitter opinion only 98% inane (1)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 4 years ago | (#29077719)

Usually the last 2% is the hardest, but there is no such obstacle to twats.

Won't work when twitter goes down (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 4 years ago | (#29077347)

Twitter goes down a lot now (or at least partially). For example, I cannot post at this moment. It's going to be hard to base serious programs on a service that is down so frequently.

Re:Won't work when twitter goes down (2, Funny)

ls671 (1122017) | more than 4 years ago | (#29077497)

> I cannot post at this moment.

We are deeply sorry about this, we have just launched a test run of our experimental software and we did not think it could affect Twitter's performance. We have now reduced the threshold of our requests so everything should be back to normal now.

Thanks,

Department of Statistics
University of Vermont

sample selection bias (3, Insightful)

drDugan (219551) | more than 4 years ago | (#29077365)

"Twitter is a reflection of what people are interested in right now"
=>
"Twitter is a reflection of what the twits are twatting in right now"

Can you see the problem?

Rigged sample (2, Insightful)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 4 years ago | (#29077403)

Assuming that "normal" people behaves and think about subjects like the average high activity twitter user in all cases is a somewhat a risky choice, throwing dices could be more exact.

Stupid (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29077441)

People who use twitter and read tweets should be gathered in a room and be shot.

twitter (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29077443)

a bunch of geeks making a big fuss to make a couple of millions out of thin air?
Why doesn't google buy twitter anyway?

The similarity is uncanny (1)

itfor (559429) | more than 4 years ago | (#29077577)

Great, more and more people are beginning to believe that Twitter is brain flu! "The tool is still in its early stages, but eventually Mr. Dodds hopes that it could work similarly to Google Flu Trends, a Web tool that doubles as an early-warning system for flu outbreaks by detecting spikes in certain search terms."

Not representative? (4, Insightful)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | more than 4 years ago | (#29077589)

Twitter is a reflection of what people are interested in right now

Correction: Twitter is a reflection of what morons are interested in right now. Still, useful marketing information.

What more could go wrong? (1)

omb (759389) | more than 4 years ago | (#29077775)

I, for one, am completely fed-up with polling agencies and the media trying to front-run public debate. We dont allow ballot stuffing, and we should not allow twitter stuffing either, though I do like the sound of that.

The fact that we have endless Astroturfing here tells you that this is a very bad idea. We will soon have the cable news media reporting this crap and the sheeple will lap it up, AGAIN.

The DOJ would be better looking at this than writing amicus curia brief supporting the MPIA/RIAA.

And the public's opinion is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29077785)

Twitter sucks and twitter users need to get a life.

Open to Gaming (2, Interesting)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 4 years ago | (#29077787)

This seems open to gaming the system since there are no controls on the users and Twit-bots are easily possible. Given that politicians are so d@mn poll-driven these days, this idea seems dangerous.

Already happening. (1)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 4 years ago | (#29077979)

http://www.mediaite.com/tv/the-daily-show-explains-how-fox-self-pollinates-outrage/ [slashdot.org]>the daily show is already outlining this happening on fox news.

? improper link copy? (1)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 4 years ago | (#29077989)

slashdot seems to have improperly published the link?.. bug anyone?

http://www.mediaite.com/tv/the-daily-show-explains-how-fox-self-pollinates-outrage/ [mediaite.com]

OT: Not a bug (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29079405)

bug anyone?

No. As you can see in your OP, there is a closing angle bracket after your link:

http://www.mediaite.com/tv/the-daily-show-explains-how-fox-self-pollinates-outrage/>

If you look at the source code, you see this:

<a href="a" title="slashdot.org">http://www.mediaite.com/tv/the-daily-show-explains-how-fox-self-pollinates-outrage/</a>>the daily show is already outlining this happening on fox news.

Notice the href="a". This means you somehow mangled the HTML link. The "a" is probably from your link text; did it start with a lowercase "a"?

It happens a lot. Forget a quote here, confuse the order of punctuation, it could be a lot of reasons. That's why there is a preview function. Why didn't you use it?

Re:Already happening. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29078751)

another example was the DOD response to the statue of liberty flyover. They were measuring the story in "tweets per minute" trying to gauge whether it was dying or not.
See the documents posted at
http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/newyorkcityflyover/

Re:Open to Gaming (1)

bschorr (1316501) | more than 4 years ago | (#29077985)

Absolutely. In fact, it turns out that 96% of the public really thinks Jennifer Aniston should go out with me. Or at least they will when I finish getting all of my TwitterBots online.

Watching Twitter to gauge public sentiment has a number of flaws, many of which have already been pointed out here. The largest of which is that it's too easy to "stuff the ballot" by simply launching a campaign to flood Twitter with positive comments about your candidate, issue, product or service.

It's really not that hard to get your product "trending" on Twitter if you have the resources.

Webtrends already does it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29078219)

Webtrends has a product that provides social measurement via blog posts and tweets and bring it all together to tell you the overall web "buzz". There's sweet twitter feeds of everyone that mentions you.

only 1000 mins a day! (1)

Mishotaki (957104) | more than 4 years ago | (#29078411)

about 1,000 tweets each minute, or about a million a day

Either someone really sucks in maths, or there is only 1000 mins in a day....

Re:only 1000 mins a day! (1)

Annwvyn (1611587) | more than 4 years ago | (#29078939)

Hey, they are only... 440,000 tweets off. That's not much, right? Give the idiots that actually give a crap about the blather on Twitter some credit. And on that note... if public opinion begins to be based on what people "tweet", then as a species we are going to look even more retarded than we already do.

ABC already did this (2, Interesting)

kramulous (977841) | more than 4 years ago | (#29078979)

The ABC (Australian Broadcast Commission) did this for a live state -vs- state football match we have here. It was quite good. Measuring sentiment of who would win based on the positiveness or negativeness of 'tweets' (or whatever the fuck they're called).

Here [abc.net.au]

Nooooo (1)

cbraescu1 (180267) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080651)

Holy batman, therefore from now on we can expect politicians to become Twitter sock puppets, no longer poll slaves?

Truly a wonderful idea. (1)

abhishekupadhya (1228010) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080827)

'"Twitter is a reflection of what people are interested in right now," So true. The world needs to know about #MrsSlocombesPussy, um, like, RIGHT NOW.

Really? PUBLIC opinion? (1)

Underfunded (1039600) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080971)

Is it really a true sample of PUBLIC opinion when only a limited portion of the public actually uses Twitter?

Feh. (1)

Nekomusume (956306) | more than 4 years ago | (#29081031)

For the most part twitter is a measure of what a vanishingly tiny and very niche chunk of the population incorrectly believes to be interesting.

Twit Science, Twat Results (1)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 4 years ago | (#29081273)

TFA is misleading, this time due to the researchers trying to make their science sexy when it's really just trying to ride a social networking wave. There is no "now" involved. They are going to scan across time looking for posts on a particular subject to see what peoples "reactions" are. People don't post these millions per day simultaneously, and they may think for an hour before they post or the may post immediately after a particular thing of interest occurs.

The 'self-selection' bias is true but isn't nearly the issue people assume. What is there about being a twit that makes people think the same about a particular thing? The evidence is in the variance of opinion measures as compared to ... what? People who are not twits (group) who'll agree to participate (subgroup) in a study comparing their opinions (subsubgroup), with those of twats (subsubsubgroup, plus forcing a result because they may never really have had such an opinion before being asked to here). All such studies have to contend with some biases such as self-selection. They have to report these as part of their operationalizations. As long as the statistical testing produces results that *could* be an accurate subset of the general population (it may just happen to be a result that looks like this, you can't tell) it can be considered a useful result. This depends on the statistical testing. And this project is being run by statisticians. I've no doubt they know what they're doing in this respect. Now when it comes to examining peoples' response to a tragedy, and finding they expect something worse to happen, well good luck on them finding the well understood basis for this and, failing to incorporate this, end up with a result that's way off compared to their others.

Why aren't they scanning the far broader user base of another system that allows the posting of more emotionally laden material by not restricting how much they post? Why aren't they using a collection of posts that cover decades instead of months? Because they're relying on making their science sexy to make it relevant and noticed. Any grouping creates bias, so the larger grouping makes better science, but Usenet isn't sexy, and Twatterizing is. At least this week. There's another problem. Twits move from one social networking site to another as each becomes the next best thing. Twitter will become obsolete, and so will their results.

Anonymous Coward (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29095867)

Won't work: people use opposite meanings, such as bad=good. Impossible to automate public opinion this way.

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