Mike Isaac

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Twitter Partners With Topsy to Launch Election Index, a Political Barometer for the Social Masses

To date, most political organizations capture the political climate by polling constituents — Gallup has made its brand by doing this for years. But as social networks have grown prominent in recent years, Twitter could offer a new type of barometer to measure the temperament of voters in upcoming elections.

In that vein, Twitter launched exactly that on Wednesday: The Twitter Political Index, a daily measurement of the population’s feelings toward the two contenders for the U.S. presidency, as the country gears up for election season.

Using sentiment analysis in a partnership with data analytics company Topsy, the index evaluates political sentiment from tweets mentioning Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, weighing them against the hundreds of millions of other tweets that pass through the Twittersphere on a daily basis. Each candidate is given a percentage-based score drawn from that measurement. So, as the company’s blog post states, “a score of 73 for a candidate indicates that tweets containing their name or account name are on average more positive than 73 percent of all tweets.”

In an interesting note, Twitter highlights the fact that the index often parallels President Obama’s approval ratings from the past two years as measured by Gallup, though in real time. Measuring that sentiment through Twitter, then, could give candidates an even better indication as to where the general temperament of the electorate is headed.

Unlike a Gallup poll, however, the index is not based on scientific sampling, nor, apparently, are its results limited to reflecting only U.S. users. To date, Twitter says the platform hosts upwards of 140 million active users, around one-third of the number of people in the U.S. And remember — the vast majority of those on Twitter are listeners, not talkers. That is, people who use Twitter to pay attention to what other, more active members of the service are saying. So, while there may be millions of people able to voice their political opinions, we should expect to see the vocal minority continue to influence the temperament of the debate. And not everyone who tweets is necessarily a registered voter.

However, it could be a useful tool for campaigns trying to monitor the general ebbs and flows of opinion, especially in reaction to each day’s news. If, say, a candidate’s appearance or remarks sway opinion wildly in either direction, campaigns can capitalize on that information to adjust accordingly.

There’s an interesting aside to all of this: I’d expect more of this type of partnership from Twitter in the future. Pairing with Topsy is in line with what Twitter said last week, after cutting off Instagram’s “Find Your Friends” feature: Twitter is realizing the “value” of its tweets, and is no longer playing nice with services that don’t add to or complement the company’s product. Topsy is different — it’s a sentiment- and data-analysis tool that takes the vast amount of information provided by users and makes sense of it, given a directed topic. It’s a business that Twitter is comfortable with, one that adds value to the platform as a whole.

Twitter will update the index daily in the months leading up to Election Day, adding the new data to the scores at the end of each business day.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work