Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Who Needs a Poll When You Have Twitter?

Who Needs a Poll When You Have Twitter Could Twitter replace the public opinion poll? That's what the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon University says. Research suggests that if you're wonder what the public opinion on politics and current events is, you'd be a lot better off (and spend a lot less money) just checking out Twitter. It seems as though the thoughts of millions of Twitter users each day correlates with polls taken by groups such as Gallup and Index of Consumer Sentiment (ICS).

How researchers would go about analyzing the Twitter information is still up for debate, but if you do need a quick idea of how the public is reacting to a certain event, you may very well want to hop on Twitter.

The research was conducted by professor Noah Smith. Together with his team, he collected about 1 billion "tweets" posted in 2008 and 2009, looked at the topic and how the person felt about each topic. He then compared his findings to data from the same period from Gallup and ICS. For example, tweets made on certain days about Obama were compared to Gallup's daily tracking polls from the same time periods.

Research found the correlation between the polls and the tweets was very strong, especially on topics like the President's job performance and the economy. Twitter matched up against the polls at rates of about 72% and 79%. But it's not all black and white. Not all data matched up. According to the research, Twitter data didn't match the increasing popularity of then Senator Obama during the presidential election.

Professor Smith says that a lot needs to be considered before people begin turning to the social networking site to predict opinions and outcomes. For example, do retweets of news headlines count? And the report also points out that polls aren't always exactly on target anyway. It concluded, "Future work should seek to understand how these different signals reflect public opinion either as a hidden variable, or as measured from more reliable sources like face-to-face interviews."

According to CNN, the study will be presented at the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence's International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media, later in May.

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