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HP Social Networks Science

Real-World Outcomes Predicted Using Social Media 93

Posted by kdawson
from the wisdom-of-crowds dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Kevin Kelly writes that researchers at the Social Computing Lab at HP Labs in Palo Alto have found that social media content can predict real world outcomes. In their study, the researchers built a model that used chatter from Twitter to predict accurately the box-office revenues of upcoming movies weeks before the movies were released. When the sentiment of the tweet was factored in (how favorable it was toward the new movie), the prediction was even more exact. To quantify the sentiments in 3 million tweets, the team used anonymous workers from Amazon's Mechanical Turk to rate a sample of tweets, and then trained an algorithmic classifier to derive a rating for the rest. But predicting box office receipts may be only the beginning. 'This method can be extended to a large panoply of topics [PDF], ranging from the future rating of products to agenda setting and election outcomes,' the researchers write. 'At a deeper level, this work shows how social media expresses a collective wisdom which, when properly tapped, can yield an extremely powerful and accurate indicator of future outcomes.'"
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Real-World Outcomes Predicted Using Social Media

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 02, 2010 @01:25PM (#31707984)

    Predicting what a bunch of assholes who use twitter will do.

    • It would have predicted that Snakes on a Plane would have been the highets grossing movie ever.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Yvan256 (722131)

        Enough is enough! I have had it with these motherfucking twitters on this motherfucking web! - Samuel L. Jackson

    • by garcia (6573)

      And considering that the majority of the movie going public are assholes, it's perfect for predicting box office revenue--or any number of other questions which can be answered by large samples of asshole behavior.

      • Now if only they had kept the algorithm to themselves for a little while...with the hollywood stock exchange becoming a public real money exchange, they could make a bunch of money and use that to pay for serious research!
  • Psychohistory! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rog7 (182880) on Friday April 02, 2010 @01:26PM (#31708004)

    These social network predictions were already predicted by the late Mr. Asimov. ;)

  • Predictions (Score:5, Informative)

    by Reason58 (775044) on Friday April 02, 2010 @01:27PM (#31708008)
    The larger your sample size the more accurate your results tends to be. Fascinating.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 02, 2010 @01:56PM (#31708344)

      Putting the fact that increasing sample size does not necessarily increase the power of a predictor, you apparently didn't get the point of their method.

      So method A was to simply "grep RamboIX" in these 3 million tweets. That alone already correlated to the box office outcome. However, that also catches messages like "RamboIX suxx, no way I'm going to see or even download this".

      So method B was to use machine learning algorithms, combined with some initial work by human drones, to assign a degree of "positiveness" to each message about RamboIX.

      While this has nothing to do with increasing sample size, it took the accuracy of the prediction to a whole new level.

      I for one think this is a pretty great idea.

      • They worked out that comments, essentially, have a sign and counted them appropriately.

        I'm not exactly expecting a postcard from Stockholm.

    • "The larger your sample size the more accurate your results tends to be. Fascinating."

      Actually it's fascinating because the sample size was NOT in itself responsible for the accuracy of the prediction.
  • Note to self... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by wavemancali (998656)
    Tweet incorrectly about the next election to screw with the people tracking this.
  • I watch Social Media mentions of things I care about very closely. I've explained to others how I've come to realize there is a definite "canary effect" with the mass sentiment seen via real-time opinion/view venues such as Twitter.

    In fact, for items related to "down time" of sites people are routinely faster at registering their dismay at a service being unavailable than expensive site monitoring tools. This isn't exactly predicting future outcomes, but it is an "early warning" indicator that businesses sh

    • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Friday April 02, 2010 @01:35PM (#31708116)
      It works until marketing departments at big companies start gaming it in a big way.
      • by Deag (250823)

        They are already trying their best, competitions to retweet this etc. But I think volume is their enemy here.
        Even something as simple as only taking unique messages into consideration would counteract marketing tactics. I am sure there would be an arms race with regard to this.
        But a question is why would marketing people bother. It is easy to see why they like their message to be a trending topic, but what is there to gain from gaming some statisticians results.

        • "but what is there to gain from gaming some statisticians results"

          Exactly, there is nothing to be gained by trying to game this to make a false prediction, marketer's who know what they are doing will love it's for data mining potential. eg: which new movie or TV show gives the best advertising bang per buck, who should we pay to wear our shoes, etc.
          • by Moridin42 (219670)

            Uh.. foiling other people's ability to gain an advantage seems like a perfectly good reason to game a system to me.

            Any system can be gamed. Any system that can provide or deny an advantage will be gamed.

            • The cost of faking millions of unique tweets vs the benifit of getting your competition to waste some of their marketing budget simply doesn't add up.
              • by Moridin42 (219670)

                Well.. you're obviously thinking the cost is a lot higher than I am. And it isn't wasting their marketing budget.

                Leading up to a product launch, say twitter is used to predict sales. Sales to which a company is trying to match production. Poison twitter data, and you can induce a competitor to overproduce. Which leaves the product looking like it isn't selling. So not only have they spent on marketing, but they are also spending on superfluous production capacity, tying up working capital buying back invent

        • Because marketing people know that people often go to movies and/or buy products that are seen as popular. As this technique is used to predict how popular something is going to be, marketing people will attempt to make something seem more popular than it is in order to drive additional customers to spend their money on it.
        • Correlation is not causation, except when it is.
          Are people tweeting about this movie because they're excited about it or are they excited about it because people are tweeting about it? The crowds are fickle and easily swayed, especially by themselves.
          • by bar-agent (698856)

            Are people tweeting about this movie because they're excited about it or are they excited about it because people are tweeting about it? The crowds are fickle and easily swayed, especially by themselves.

            I guess it doesn't really matter, because they are excited about it either way.

      • by Beorytis (1014777) on Friday April 02, 2010 @02:14PM (#31708522)

        It works until marketing departments at big companies start gaming it in a big way.

        No need to game the system when you've already gamed the users! How do you think all these twitterers know to talk about movies before they're released?

        • No mod points, but insightful remark. They are already gaming the results. Pre-screening a movie for a few selected audiences in a few cities, with the audience being awarded seats via a contest. Give them a goody bag and do some slick crowd rousing hype before the movie to get them in a good mood. At that point unless the movie is a total bag of crap, you will have 300-500 people times 2 shows, times 10 cities to tweet and otherwise talk about how great the movie was. Roughly 8000 people who will probably
        • Yes, but right now, those twits are talking about the movie because they are interested in going. The companies will start paying people to create "buzz" on twitter. They will also create accounts (that are not identified as such) on twitter to promote their products.
        • Look at Apple, if you want to see the real kings of this viral marketing techniques!

          I swear that there was not a single day since months, where there wasn’t some “article” that conveniently contained some Apple product name. Even for simple things like “listening to your mp3 player” which becomes “listening to your iPod”, etc.
          I know, because a spam filter in my RSS reader filters them out and shows me statistics about it.

          I mean making people think the iPhone would e

      • by CAIMLAS (41445)

        There's only so much you can game. Sure, there'll be a "bump" in gaming at first once the marketeers figure it out, but as soon as the scientists notice this, we'll see bayesian type filtering looking for the drone accounts.

        Sure, bots can fool some people, and there will eventually be some good ones. But it's just like spam: there are a lot of approaches to stop them at the gate, and if they get past it, most of them aren't that bright or humanly inconsistent.

        I can't imagine that twitter won't have built-in

      • by deetoy (1576145)
        too late.
  • In other words... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 02, 2010 @01:32PM (#31708066)

    At a deeper level, this work shows how social media expresses a collective wisdom which, when properly tapped, can yield an extremely powerful and accurate indicator of future outcomes.

    In other words - Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.

  • by dreadlord76 (562584) on Friday April 02, 2010 @01:33PM (#31708082)
    A candidate makes a speech, and then the workers scrape SN data to see the response, so the candidate can further tailor the message for the next speech. However, do we really want to always be driven by public opinion?
  • by dstates (629350) on Friday April 02, 2010 @01:34PM (#31708096) Homepage
    The fact that the tweets predict the sales in advance of the movies release or people actually seeing the movie raises an interesting question. Is it the content of the movie or the "buzz" that really matters?
    • by maxume (22995)

      The buzz is important, but it is fickle, a bad movie might launch with high expectations, but people will quickly figure it out.

      • yeah... but people went to see Avatar based on buzz, even though the movie thoroughly, totally, absolutely, entirely, wholly, fully, quite, altogether, one hundred percent, downright, outright, in all respects, unconditionally, perfectly, really, to the hilt, to the core, utterly, positively, indisputably, indubitably, beer, unquestionably, beyond any doubt, beyond any question, incontrovertibly, incontestable, irrefutable, unassailably; certainly, surely, definitely, positively, conclusively, plainly, obvi

  • Psychohistory? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by drunken_boxer777 (985820) on Friday April 02, 2010 @01:35PM (#31708114)

    Is this an early experiment in the development of psychohistory [wikipedia.org]?

    Hari Seldon would be proud.

  • ...I've always like that word. I so rarely have a chance to use it in a sentence.
  • The true demise of twitter will be / is when the PR firms that try to take advantage of this flood it with spam, or worse yet, pay people to hype their junk.

    Onwards to the next social networking platform!!! I want something with pub/private encryption, non-repudiation, recall, key escrow, supports live pictures, movies, sound, and sound effects, multi-threaded conversations, geolocation, rankings, tagging, filtering, and stuff (yes, I know I contradicted myself a few times, laugh)

    • Sounds like Google Wave to me! A couple of plugins and you're sorted.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Dynedain (141758)

      The true demise of twitter will be / is when the PR firms that try to take advantage of this flood it with spam, or worse yet, pay people to hype their junk.

      When it happens??? It's been happening from day 1. They're just so good at it that you haven't noticed.

    • I use FB under a false name. Privacy settings at the highest and auto-block all apps. And I only use it to keep in contact with friends. You know, people who I am in contact with regularly, know their birthdays, am concerned at some level about their well-being and happiness,have their email nd phone numbers in my phone and with the exception of three people, I know where they all live specifically. (2 because they have moved to other states and I have not been to their new homes, and one because she is a g
  • Summary Mistake.. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    "'At a deeper level, this work shows how social media expresses a collective wisdom which, when properly manipulated, can yield extremely powerful and profitable future income..'"

    - Fixed That For You.

  • So let me get this straight. A research institution came to the conclusion that popular things tended to earn a lot of money, while unpopular things tended to tank?

    Holy Crap stop the presses! We just invented the Oracle of Delphi! It's all so clear now. The Greeks weren't talking to the gods, but they were talking to a complicated trend analysis computer that tapped into their far reaching social networks!

    =P

    Nah, in all seriousness though, it's a pretty interesting read.
    • So let me get this straight. A research institution came to the conclusion that popular things tended to earn a lot of money, while unpopular things tended to tank?

      Holy Crap stop the presses! We just invented the Oracle of Delphi! It's all so clear now.

      Nah, it's more of the Councilor Troi "sensing the obvious and predicting the present" sort of thing. =)

    • by Ironica (124657)

      So let me get this straight. A research institution came to the conclusion that popular things tended to earn a lot of money, while unpopular things tended to tank?

      No... a research institution found a way to quickly quantify popularity without expensive market research and focus groups. *That* is the innovation here.

  • I don't think that the terms social media and collective wisdom can be appropriately used together in a sentence. Unless you are describing the lack of wisdom thereof.
  • Ok guys. So when the next Joss Whedon series comes out, everyone tweet about how great it is.
    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by BitZtream (692029)

      Yes, just what we need, more idiots talking about how 'deep' his shows are. How great he is for 'addressing moral issues'.

      I don't think I can take another Buffy. FireFly was fine right up till Serenity when it just turned into to much of 'moral' story than a space western.

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yes, just what we need, more idiots talking about how 'deep' his shows are. How great he is for 'addressing moral issues'.

        I don't think I can take another Buffy. FireFly was fine right up till Serenity when it just turned into to much of 'moral' story than a space western.

        Heh...you only realized that they were addressing moral concepts in Firefly when the movie came out, and we're the idiots? From the very start that show has been about how Big Government is evil.

  • seems more like viral marketing effect felt on twitter...
  • I can see it already. Someone in Wall St is look at this thinking they can automate their buying and selling of stocks and beat the market, then they'll say they aren't making enough so they'll create a derivatives market in social media futures, then they'll fiddle things slightly to improve it, then when the bubble bursts (again) we'll look back at this and wonder why it happens again and again.

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      Uhm, CNN is about the best indicator of the stock market you can get. Watch CNN long enough and you can predict the markets in general trends, probably rarely will you get news soon enough to make money on any single companies stock.

      Broadcast news controls people FAR more than they realize. The difference is, broadcast news sets the tone and people then act on it. Social media just makes those actions apparent in a new place. They were always apparent if you bothered to look.

      Had the broadcast news chann

    • http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601204&sid=aBtiaTy.Q1vw [bloomberg.com]
      "The Motion Picture Association of America asked regulators to reject proposals from two planned exchanges that would allow investors to trade in movie futures.

      Approving movie futures contracts would be the "economic equivalent of legalized gambling," MPAA interim Chief Executive Officer Bob Pisano said in a letter March 23 to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

      The Cantor Futures Exchange, a unit of Cantor Fitzgerald LP, and Trend Exc

  • by arkham6 (24514) on Friday April 02, 2010 @01:57PM (#31708356)
    Collective wisdom? In today's popular culture? Surely there must be a better term than that.
    • No kidding (Score:4, Insightful)

      by pavon (30274) on Friday April 02, 2010 @02:20PM (#31708580)

      The quote in the article is such crap:

      At a deeper level, this work shows how social media expresses a collective wisdom which, when properly tapped, can yield an extremely powerful and accurate indicator of future outcomes.

      No it doesn't show that at all. It shows that what is popular in twitter is popular in the real world. In other words, it shows that twitter is close enough to a representative sample of the general population for many practical purposes. That is all. It doesn't have anything to do with collective wisdom, nor does it help you predict any outcome unless it is primarily dependent on popular opinion.

  • No shit sherlock (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BitZtream (692029) on Friday April 02, 2010 @02:00PM (#31708388)

    Yes, 'the crowd' generally has a pretty good idea of what 'the crowd' is going to do.

    If you ask me if I'm going to go see a movie or not than my answer is probably going to pretty accurately reflect what I'm actually going to do.

    I'm not exactly sure why this is surprising? Marketers have been doing this for years. They announce products that haven't even hit the drawing board yet. If they get a good response in the form of inquires and other types of interest, they build the device. If they don't then it will just go away.

  • by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Friday April 02, 2010 @02:06PM (#31708454)

    Forget the mechanical turk. Just tell me the marketing budget of a movie and how many screens it's going to open on and I'll give you an estimate of the take. It's a pretty strong correlation on large-release movies.

    Hollywood has worked so hard to remove the actual quality of the movie from the equation. Get the movie onto a lot of screens early and spend a lot on advertising. Get people in to see it on the first 3 days (Fri, Sat Sun, or Wed-Sun in some cases) before any info about the movie that you don't control (i.e. other than promos) gets out.

    Many movies make around half their total theatrical take in the first weekend of release.

    • by copponex (13876)

      Hollywood doesn't push movies that actually suck. The plots may be generic, and made for mass appeal, but the truly awful releases are not previewed or advertised beyond what it takes to satisfy the egos that made the trash in the first place.

      Transformers (I didn't see the second one) was a steaming pile of shit in terms of art, but it was an okay movie. Explosions. Sweaty young women. One dimensional characters. Sounds a lot like the James Bond flicks from the 60s, doesn't it?

    • While the marketing-and-opening-screens approximation works great for "Spiderman vs. Shrek III" it doesn't seem to work anywhere nearly as well with movies like The Blair Witch Project. Those quirky breakout movies have a vastly higher profit margin so there's a very good reason to try to predict those and launch last-minute advertising campaigns.
      • Has it shown a propensity to predict those? I would suggest their system only measures public awareness which is driven by marketing. It won't find "There's Something About Mary" which took 9 weeks to reach #1 and made 60% as much in its 8th week as in its first.

        http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?page=weekend&id=somethingaboutmary.htm [boxofficemojo.com]

        Compare that to "The Hangover", an excellent movie in the same category. A movie anyone in Hollywood would be glad to have made. It made 13% as much in its 8th week as its fi

  • How resistant would this be to Ford Edsel-like hype? Would we get another one of these [wikipedia.org]?
  • These days I would consider that an oxymoron..

  • Here's a prediction based upon social networks:

    People will become increasingly self-absorbed and focused on triviality and consumption.

    During this Holy Week, I think we should all remember that when you post on Facebook or Twitter, it makes Jesus cry.

    And it makes Buddha do the "finger down your throat" sign for puking.

  • But predicting box office receipts may be only the beginning. 'This method can be extended to a large panoply of topics, ranging from the future rating of products to agenda setting and election outcomes,' the researchers write. 'At a deeper level, this work shows how social media expresses a collective wisdom which, when properly tapped, can yield an extremely powerful and accurate indicator of future outcomes.'

    Hey, how about using this for something that's actually useful, like predicting and preventing attempts at suicide?

  • Polling! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by brit74 (831798) on Friday April 02, 2010 @03:40PM (#31709292)
    Wow. It's like psychohistory - uh, wait - isn't this really just doing a poll? Hasn't this already been done for decades? Just poll a small number of people in the general population, and you can "predict" all kinds of things - like elections before they happen? Sigh. The only difference between this and regular polls is that this is less scientific (since they make no effort to find a random selection of people from the population). It's probably a little better than online polls (probably less manipulation) and a little worse than scientifically-designed polls.
    • The only difference between this and regular polls is that this is less scientific (since they make no effort to find a random selection of people from the population). It's probably a little better than online polls (probably less manipulation) and a little worse than scientifically-designed polls.

      Judge for yourself, here's what they say:

      Surprisingly, we discovered that the chatter of a community can indeed be used to make quantitative predictions that outperform those of artificial markets. These information markets generally involve the trading of state-contingent securities, and if large enough and properly designed, they are usually more accurate than other techniques for extracting diffuse information, such as surveys and opinions polls.

      So twitter-reading beats markets which beats polls.

      Also, what do you mean by "scientifically"? If you mean "like scientists", could you please explain to me what the important properties of what scientists do are?

  • It doesn't surprise me that a few HP geeks are doing arithmetic analysis of what's supposed to be art. No doubt this model will be used to bang out a bunch of crap optimized for it, which will then disprove the model. It would not surprise me if a niche industry in punitry alts didn't spring up so that people could blog every possible permutation of like/dislike early and so market the winning alts as "market drivers" that could be marketed to studios. Why not? We're already doing that here on slashdot a

  • POst-quark APril 1 charm Agreeably hard to distinguish true content from false on this year's Topeka date. Twitterers driving Hollywoood seems well pitched close enough to the believability threshold to cause real doubt. Every day I read Slashdot expecting to be on the boundary between the beliebavle and the possible but not yet practical. As someone who prefers the bright haze of a documentary to the potential fuzz of fiction I wonder is the appeal of Slashdot: the be the source in reality for the sciFi de
    • --- The Battle of the Titans has been established in a town of the (middle West?) famed for drag racing, bike jumps across gulches and similar macho standoffs. Turned-on-technologists from all States convene for the Battle of the Schwarz. (Der Schwarzbattelgotterdammerunggesellschaft) Two champions, representing their respective armies, face off on the Plain. Passions rise. Injuries are attempted. Few occur. (Spirit willing, but..) Finally tempers abate and the parties go home, deflated but having had thei

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