Thursday, May 13, 2010

Who Needs a Survey?
Twitter as Public Opinion

Let the lede do the talking:
Pollsters aren’t trembling yet, but a study of Twitter posts finds that for some key political and economic questions, tracking the content of microblogs on the Internet is nearly as good as doing a traditional telephone survey. 
It's a scary proposition and probably flawed, but this story touches on something I've discussed before, how social media do a pretty good job of capturing a snapshot of opinion.  We'll need a new word for this.  Twitnion? TwitianOpintiwitin? Okay, they all suck, but not only traditional surveys are in trouble.
By tracking the frequency of positive or negative sentiments about people’s financial well-being—filtering for posts about saving and spending—the Twitter data also reproduced trends in some classic economic indicators such as consumer confidence. 
It's only a matter of time before someone does this professionally at a level in which they, with fewer costs, position themselves as a viable alternative to serious public opinion research.  The bottom line matters, and if they can model this to demonstrate it is as accurate as well-done polls, then we're going to see some interesting changes.

Do I think its a viable alternative?  No, not by itself.  The lack of generalizability bothers me, but I think social media captures some data polls might miss and will serve a complementary function in helping us understand what people think and know.  And here's a different take on the predictive power of social media.

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