‘Twindex’ wants to gauge Election 2012’s intensity: will it be successful?
With the launch of its new Twitter Political Index, Twitter is hoping to give denizens of the 24-second news cycle a clear insight into the campaign.
Using data from social media analysis service Topsy, the tool – shorthand: ‘Twindex‘ – will sift through its daily dispatch of some 400m tweets, then sort the tweets according to thousands of keywords meant to indicate positive or negative thoughts toward President Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The resulting daily Twindex is a two-person leader board you see pictured above.
On Thursday, Obama was up 10 Twindex points from the day before, while Romney was up one. From this, can we infer that both candidates did well with prospective voters Wednesday?
Not really, according to researchers.
Tom Rosenstiel leads a of team of Pew Research Center analysts who’ve spent a year monitoring campaign conversations on social media at the center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Rosenstiel said that, for now, all Twitter is likely to do is gauge the conversation amongst a young, more wired-in and “self-selected” group of users. In other words, they tend to be the opposite of the disengaged, less politically aligned people whose votes tend to win elections.
Another defining characteristic?
“Overall, what we see is that people tweet when they’re irritated about something.”
Sentiment analysis on Twitter as a concept is not a new endeavor, but attempts to actually build tools that predict the future (or even figure out the present) are small in number. In January, the Washington Post’s Mention Machine took a stab at analyzing tweets ahead of the Republican primaries to determine the winner. While conversation around most of the candidates flagged and spiked, the Machine consistently churned out results indicating that one GOP candidate was ahead of the field.
“If Twitter were a good predictor of public attitudes,” Rosenstiel told the Guardian, “Ron Paul would be the Republican nominee. Not Mitt Romney.”
Cory Haik, executive director of digital news at the Washington Post, said Twindex is a more complicated next step in the progress toward figuring out social media analysis. Where the Post’s creation attempted to help reporters and editors craft a narrative from a real-time intake of tweets, Twitter is taking it further by using technology that professes to be better at sorting what comes in.
“By providing more signals, more dials – that can agree or disagree – these new technologies give a more complete picture of crafting a political forecast,” Adam Sharp, head of government, news and social innovation at Twitter, told the New York Times on Wednesday.
“This is a million times more complicated and detailed,” Haik told the Guardian. “[Mention Machine] did the job we wanted it to. I think what they’re putting out there feels like they’re getting at it in a better way.”
The road to November will tell us whether a Twitter-powered analysis tool can present users with the winner ahead of Election Day. But, in the end, the sheer use numbers still don’t lie in Twitter’s favor. Twitter only accounts for15% of American adults who are online, and about half of them use the service daily. Twitter ranks last out of 19 information sources people use to get campaign news, according to a February report by Pew – that puts the little blue bird behind cable news networks, talk radio shows and religious television and radio.
And don’t forget: with months to go, there’s the chance of burnout – if we’re not there already.
“People don’t love the campaign,” Rosenthiel said. “Twitter is a wonderful platform for monitoring discussion in real-time, which is not something everyone wants to do. You might actually say, ‘Well, I got enough information … so maybe Twitter’s not the place I want to follow.”
(Full disclosure: I worked at the Washington Post until April 2012.)