The economics of attention: can social media predict the future?

Can you data mine social data to predict the future? That seems to be one key question for stock pickers analyzing Tweets to predict market investments.

Professor Bernardo Huberman argues that there’s a difference between sentiment on the web versus what’s actually believed and done in real life. He calls it “the economics of attention.”

If you were to predict the election based off the Twitter stream from the last three debates you could say Obama has the election in the bag. But there’s no analysis that can solve for the moment the voter makes that final decision. Any number of things can happen leading up to the polls.

Tweets can be misleading since most people fear expressing themselves fully online, especially in an open environment like Twitter. Investors are even more cagey about broadcasting their stock picks.

Hashtags, groupthink, and advertising can also shift discussion on the web. What’s opined isn’t actually what’s believed; social media users just want to get in on the action.

There’s some predictive analysis on the web that when aggregated can positively impact strategic decisions. In short, the masses can be strikingly accurate.

The challenge therefore is balancing the organic sentiment from the bias, a true test in guessing pyschology.


China’s Rising Soft Power

Back in college I learned about “soft power,” the term Joseph Nye coined to describe the way America uses its cultural products (movies, music, sports, etc.) to expand its power overseas.  Soft power is an alternative to hard power, whereby America flexes its muscles with military might.

American preeminence shows that it takes a combination of both hard and soft power to retain hegemony.  So it makes sense for a rising nation like China to follow the same model.

China is funding a Hollywood film for 2014 anchored by a Chinese superhero that saves the world.  Concurrently, China is building up its military and roaming the Asia Pacific to compete with the United States.

China is therefore building up the might to fight America on two fronts.  But it won’t win the culture marketing battle.

For one, China is not a cultural hodgepodge like the US.  American diversity allows it to tell a multitude of stories that can relate to anyone the world.  China is too uniform with non-existent enclaves.

Secondly, there’s no entertainment business foundation in China.  Hollywood and even Bollywood in India are the results of intense investment in monetizing cultural enrichment.  Chinese actors are rare and few, musicians more so.

Lastly, China is doing itself a disservice by keeping tight control of the Internet.  The Internet is the fulcrum for word of mouth marketing.  Even a negative tweet review about a new release is spreading awareness, something the great Chinese Firewall might block.

Remember America too resisted internationalism before it found itself with the global responsibility to save and entertain the world.

Cultural packaging and export will be a tough sell for China.  The market is already crowded with good stories and quality content from the West.  Not too mention the glut of user generated content.  If China is going to all of a sudden make hits to spread its power it should get the backing of its own people first.


Tweeting for the nation

Sweden is taking an interesting approach to Twitter, passing it to its citizens to handle. 

Swedish tweeters own the handle @Sweden for a week each, tweeting about the realities and observations of every day life in Sweden.

It’s a risky move by the national government but it does put the microphone in the everyday citizen’s hands, to simply tell it like it is.  The best advice for handlers of the account is play by the rules and to be themselves.  

“I wanted to show that I’m often kind of immature and often kind of stupid and so is this country, and I bet you are, too, and so are a lot of people around the world.” (link)

What’s not clear is how open other nations would be to this model.  For one, @unitedstates is strictly a conservative account.  But it it were a US government account and followed the Sweden model, Americans would be in store for some educational moments about its own people.

It’s easy to forget your neighbor, young or old, black,white, hispanic, or jewish.  As I tumbled yesterday, “I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen.”

America needs a reminder about its unique diversity of people, ideas, and socioeconomic conditions. 

@Country is a groundbreaking idea that could speak for any nation as it should, through the eyes of the people.

Arts Politics & Society

Ai Weiwei: Art through suffering

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You can push a creative man into silence but all this does is fuel his creative output.

China held artist and “dissident” Ai Weiwei in captivity for 81 days. He nearly died.

Weiwei is now turning his jail time experience into a piece of art. For Weiwei, creative expression is more about storytelling than profit.

“Very few people know why art sells so high,” Mr. Ai replied. “I don’t even know.”

Still, his art sells for hundreds of thousands at Sotheby’s in New York.

Weiwei lived in New York for 11 years before heading back to China. The creative freedom he learned in New York shines through WeiWei’s work.

Weiwei teaches us to make something lasting, in good times or bad. As Neil Gaiman said in his commencement speech this week:

“When things get tough, make good art. Make it on the bad days. Make it the good days too.”

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