Archive for the ‘technology’ Category
A number of people have asked me a very important question about the More Tweets, More Votes paper. Do relative tweet rates merely correlate with elections or is there is a causal link?
The paper itself does not settle the issue. The purpose of the paper is merely to document this striking correlation. Given that qualification, let me explain the argument from both sides and my priors.
- Correlation: Twitter is a passive record of how excited people are. If a candidate somehow garners the attention of the public, they get excited and start talking about it, which translates into a higher twitter presence.
- Causal: The unusual attention that a candidate attracts in social media sways undecided or weakly committed voters. In a sense, highly active twitter users are the “opinion leaders” of modern society.
My prior: 75% correlation, 25% cause. How would tease out these arguments? For example, what variable could instrument the district level tweet counts? Interesting to find out.
When people read our More Tweets, More Votes paper, they often wonder – where is the “sentiment analysis?” In other words, why don’t we try to measure whether a tweet is positive or negative? Joe DiGrazia, the lead author, addressed this in a recent interview with techpresident.com:
DiGrazia said the researchers were “kind of surprised” that they saw a correlation without doing sentiment analysis of the Tweets. “We thought we were going to have to look at the sentiment,” he said. He speculated that one reason for the correlation could be a so-called Pollyanna Hypothesis, “that people are more likely to gravitate toward subjects that they are positive about and are more likely to talk about candidates that they support.”
The idea is simply this: the frequency of speech is often a relatively decent approximation of how imporant people think that topic is relative to salient alternatives. If people say “Obama” a little more often than the competition, then it’s not unreasonable to believe that he is more favored. And you don’t need content analysis to suss that out.
Unit of analysis: US House elections in 2010 and 2012. X-Axis: (# of tweets mentioning the GOP candidate)/(# of tweets mentioning either major party candidate). Y-axis: GOP margin of victory.
I have a new working paper with Joe DiGrazia*, Karissa McKelvey and Johan Bollen asking if social media data actually forecasts offline behavior. The abstract:
Is social media a valid indicator of political behavior? We answer this question using a random sample of 537,231,508 tweets from August 1 to November 1, 2010 and data from 406 competitive U.S. congressional elections provided by the Federal Election Commission. Our results show that the percentage of Republican-candidate name mentions correlates with the Republican vote margin in the subsequent election. This finding persists even when controlling for incumbency, district partisanship, media coverage of the race, time, and demographic variables such as the district’s racial and gender composition. With over 500 million active users in 2012, Twitter now represents a new frontier for the study of human behavior. This research provides a framework for incorporating this emerging medium into the computational social science toolkit.
The working paper (short!) is here. I’d appreciate your comments.
* Yes, he’ll be in the market in the Fall.
The interesting thing about technology is that early adopters tend to be very technical people. The average person who owned a computer in 1982 was probably educated and very interested in technology. A Popular Mechanics reader, if you will. Later, there is nothing remarkable about computer owners. Scientific literacy is not a precondition for computer use.
That leads me to a distinction: computer literacy vs. digital natives. The computer literate is someone who is steeped in the ways of computing. Not a professional engineer, but they approach a computer the way some people approach a car. It’s a machine, you can take it apart, make it do things, and so forth. The digital native is some who is comfortable with computers because they grew up around them. They are consumers of computers, not builders. They know how to use computer, but they can’t really write code or otherwise command a computer. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It should be expected that when a technology is well diffused that it is easy to use and requires little training or knowledge.
Here’s Joel West giving a primer (at Berkeley) on open and user innovation.
I’m a sucker for nutty futurist speculations. So bear with me on this one.
A few nights ago I was watching Neal Stephenson’s talk on “getting big stuff done,” where he bemoans the lack of aggressive technological progress in the past forty or so years. There’s obviously some debate about this, though he makes some good points. He raises the question of why, for example, we haven’t yet built a 20km tall building despite the fact that it appears to be technologically very feasible with extant materials. Nutty. But an interesting question. From a sci-fi writer.
Stephenson ends his talk on an organizational note and asks:
What is going on in the financial and management worlds that has caused us to narrow our scope and reduce our ambitions so drastically?
I like that question. Even if you think that ambitions have not been lowered, I think all of us would like to see the big problems of the world addressed more aggressively. (Unless one subscribes to the Leibnizian view that we live in the “best of all possible [organizational] worlds.”) Surely organization theory is central to this. This is particularly true in cases where technologies and solutions for big problems seemingly already exist – but it is the social technologies and organizational solutions that appear to be sub-optimal. So, how can more aggressive forms of collective action and organizational performance be realized? I don’t see org theorists really wrestling with these types of questions, systematically anyways. It would be great to see some more wide-eyed speculation about the organizational forms and theories that perhaps might facilitate more aggressive technological, social and human progress.
I can see several reasons for why organization theorists don’t engage with these types of, “futurist” questions. First, theories of organization tend to lag practice. That is, organizational scholars describe and explain the world (in its current or past state), though they don’t often engage in speculative forecasting (about possible future states). Second, many of the organizational sub-fields suited for wide-eyed speculation are in a bit of a lull, or they represent small niches. For example, organization design isn’t a super “hot” area these days (certainly with exceptions) — despite its obvious importance. Institutional and environmental theories of organization have taken hold in many parts, and agentic theories are often seen as overly naive. Environmental and institutional theories of course are valuable, but they delimit and are incremental, and are perhaps just self-fulfilling and thus may not always be practically helpful for thinking about the future.
That’s my (very speculative) two cents.
I’ve been reading up on intellectual property of late. Here are some sources worth perusing and reading (some of them can be downloaded for free), along with some interviews and clips.
- Boldrine, M. and Levine, D. (2008.) Against Intellectual Monopoly (you can download all the chapters on the website). Cambridge University Press.
- Boyle, J. (2008.) The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind. Yale University Press. (Here’s a short lecture based on the book.)
- Cohen, J. (2012.) Configuring the Networked Self: Law, Code and the Play of Everyday Practice. Yale University Press. Here’s the open version. (And, lecture at Berkman.)
- Johns, A. (2010.) Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates. University of Chicago Press. (Here’s a C-SPAN interview.)
- Lessig, L. (2001.) The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connect World. Random House.
- Merges, R (2011.) Justifying Intellectual Property. Oxford University Press.
- Zemer, L. (2007). The Idea of Authorship in Copyright. Ashgate Publishing.
Interestingly, there isn’t meaningfully any kind of sociology of intellectual property, that I am aware of (feel free to correct me). Though several of the above scholars do call for increased dialogue between law and the social sciences (e.g., Julie Cohen), though this seems to be a relatively nascent area.
There is of course the “social construction” argument (e.g., that authorship or ownership is a myth)—a favorite argument of mine (e.g., see Beethoven and the Construction of Genius)—or the ubiquitous and tired references to “networks” (help!), but it seems that there is much opportunity in this space.
I’m sort of intrigued by the various innovations emerging from the Occupy Wallstreet Movement (I posted at strategyprofs about some of the tech ones, specifically apps).
One of the cooler, more low-tech innovations (ok, ok, these have been around for a long time – but still) is the use of the “human microphone” – note that the wiki entry was initiated just two weeks ago. Occupy also has its own hand signals (and, check out the hand signals for consensus decision-making). Cool. Twinkles.
Here’s a hand signal tutorial:
[link via David Lazer]
Twitter is getting lots of interest from social scientists. Here’s a piece from the current issue of Science about how “social scientists wade into the tweet stream” (the figure below is from this article). And, an NPR piece on a forthcoming Science article by Macy and Golder on affect and mood and twitter.
There’s lots that is nutty about the Quantified Self movement. But I love it nonetheless. Here’s the blog, Quantified Self.
And, here’s an example of someone who carefully tracked social interactions, for years.
Other than financial measures (like ROA) I can’t think of another firm-level variable that is more commonly used in organizational studies than patent activity. Patents are used to track everything from innovation to technological niches to social networks among scientists. Patents are an all-purpose measure because we think they are tightly linked to creativity and knowledge production, the engine that drives both science and capitalist enterprise. But what if this is increasingly not true? What if patent use is becoming decoupled from creativity?
This is one of the questions posed made by last week’s This American Life, my favorite NPR show and one of the most consistently interesting programs of journalism out there. The show talked about patent trolls – companies or individuals who acquire patents for the primary purpose of suing other actors who might use technology that potentially infringes on that patent. The show focused on the firm, Intellectual Ventures, and its founder Nathan Myhrvoid. Through a couple of interesting vignettes and sly investigations, they showed how the company uses lawsuits, brought by a number of shell companies, to get large settlements out of technology companies, some of which are struggling enterpreneurial groups. The show demonstrates how, rather than protect and promote innovation, increasingly patents are being used to stifle innovation by wiping out or financially weakening companies that are actually trying to bring innovation to the marketplace. Meanwhile, patent trolls sit on those patents and do nothing to advance the innovations.
This must have some implications for our current understanding of patents as indicators of creativity and innovation. One of the startling revelations in the program was just how much redundancy there is in the patent system. The number of patents issued that cover the same basic function is often in the thousands, especially in the software industry. Patents may be more indicative of turf wars than they are of real innovation.
Even if you’re not a technology scholar, I highly recommend that you listen to the podcast of the show.
I really like what companies like kickstarter are doing — they provide a “crowdfunding”-type platform for artists. Artists and budding entrepreneurs can post project ideas and needs onto the web site and readers can pledge funds to help realize these projects (based on a threshold funding system). The projects range from hundreds of thousands of dollars to much smaller ones. (Warning: thumbing through the various projects is pretty addicting.) The wikipedia site for “crowdfunding” lists other such companies (e.g., kiva.org, sponsume, pledgemusic).
As NSF funding for the social sciences appears to be under threat, it would be great to see a crowdfunding model for academic research as well. There seem to be lots of potential benefits: a new source of funds could be tapped, researchers wouldn’t have to chase funds as funders might find them instead, new populations would be introduced to research, etc, etc. Lots of benefits, downsides of course too.
Pressure seems to be mounting as other disciplines are setting up online “TV stations.” Philosophy TV (philostv.org) features very engaging discussions between philosophers, similar in format to bloggingheads.tv (also a favorite). econstoriestv is a Russ Roberts venture — the site seems to largely be dedicated to the Keynes-Hayek rap videos (perhaps there is a part III to come). I really like the fact that academic content/discussion is now available in this type of format. What’s next? orgtheorytv?
- NPR story on removing traffic signs in Germany.
- Wired story on ‘Roads Gone Wild.’
- Tom Vanderbilt’s book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)
- And, lets throw this in too — audio of Friedrich Hayek speaking in 1983 on ‘evolution and spontaneous order’