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Measuring Real Time Public Opinion With Twitter 54

Posted by timothy
from the bloop-bleep-treacle-tweet-thurp-twaddle dept.
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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Measuring Real Time Public Opinion With Twitter

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  • by jonbryce (703250) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @01:20PM (#29077269) Homepage

    Wait until the astroturfers and lobyists discover this.

    • by Frosty Piss (770223) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @01:23PM (#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? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @01:33PM (#29077385) Journal
        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.
        • by freedomlinux (1072142) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @01:51PM (#29077533) Homepage
          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...
          • 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.
          • 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
          • 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? (Score:5, Informative)

          by negRo_slim (636783) <mils_oRgen@hotmail.com> on Saturday August 15, 2009 @02:18PM (#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: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by AliasMarlowe (1042386)

            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 Pl

        • by peipas (809350)

          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.

    • "If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you." --Oscar Wilde
    • 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).
  • by ls671 (1122017) * on Saturday August 15, 2009 @01:21PM (#29077275) Homepage

    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.

    • by plover (150551) *

      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?

    • I hear you like twiting, so we built a twiter with twats built in so that you can twit while something or ohter.
    • by PPH (736903)

      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.

  • 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."

    • 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.

      • by tenco (773732)

        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.

    • by plover (150551) *

      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.

    • by oldhack (1037484)
      Usually the last 2% is the hardest, but there is no such obstacle to twats.
  • 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: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ls671 (1122017) *

      > 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

  • How a bunch of twits feel, anyways...
  • by drDugan (219551) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @01:31PM (#29077365) Homepage

    "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 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gmuslera (3436) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @01:35PM (#29077403) Homepage Journal
    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 (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

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

  • 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."
  • by clarkkent09 (1104833) * on Saturday August 15, 2009 @01:55PM (#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.
  • The Onion (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jamamala (983884) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @02:18PM (#29077749)
    Another case of life imitating Onion [theonion.com].
  • 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.
  • Open to Gaming (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @02:21PM (#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.
  • 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....

    • by Annwvyn (1611587)
      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 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kramulous (977841) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @05:14PM (#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]

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

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

  • ...breach of privacy?

  • 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

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