Saturday, August 30, 2008

Are Political Blogs Predictive?

Published by Kevin J. Dooley in Managing Technology

2008 will be remembered for the classic battles between Obama and Clinton and McCain and Obama, but political wonks will also note the historical nature of this presidential campaign because of the profound impact that the Internet and social media have had on the dynamics of the race.

From Barack Obama's grassroots fundraising to Ron Paul's "Revolution," bloggers have advocated and vetted candidates in a public manner not seen in any previous campaigns. Involvement in social media allows voters to influence and be influenced.

A reasonable question is: Are political blogs predictive? Specifically, do blogs process and spread information more rapidly than mainstream media (MSM)? Is the blogosphere a "first mover" or "early adopter"? Do blogs create buzz around something that would otherwise go unreported by MSM? In other words, are they a "buzz creator"?

Blogs and nascent stories

From the perspective of the consumer world, we have numerous examples where the blogosphere, or the Internet in general, kept a story alive until MSM could get around to reporting it.

Perhaps the most famous example involved the Intel Pentium chip flaw. When small computational errors were found in the chip and made public in discussion board forums, Intel (and MSM) ignored it. But because of the compounding concern about the flaw, other industry discussion boards and magazines began to pick up the story, until eventually the story broke in the mainstream. It is interesting to note that many execs at Intel, including supposedly Andy Grove himself, were not aware of the issue until it hit MSM.

In these cases, blogs have the potential to give a worthy story legs and sustenance until it "matures," and is ready for diffusion in MSM.

The second situation is one where bloggers take a more active role in actually uncovering news and making it public. The Dan Rather-Bush draft story is an example where bloggers quickly vetted and rejected Rather's story as untrue, and the backlash from the embarrassing event led to the "death" of the Dan Rather brand.

Another example is the August 2006 banning of Coca-Cola and Pepsi by two Indian states after the Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi said it found pesticide residues in product samples that were 24 times above the limits set by the Bureau of Indian Standards.

Most people in the U.S. heard about the ban on August 10 by reading their local newspapers. The story had hit large U.S. MSMs (USA Today, BBC, ABC) two days earlier. The New York Times led the second-wave of MSM with an August 7 report. A first wave of MSM coverage had passed by ignored around August 3, with reports from BBC, Reuters, and the Toronto Sun.

But the Indian blogosphere had been discussing this as early as mid-June. Blogs such as World Prout Assembly and Mission and Justice were carrying information a month before the court ruled against Coke and Pepsi. Finally, if you had been tracking Indian blogs all year long, you would have known that Indian citizens in certain towns were furious with Coke for "stealing" the water from their aquifers, and that trouble was brewing as early as March 2006.

So in the consumer world at least, bloggers can break news, keep news alive until the bulk of MSM gets around to paying attention, and help news spread faster than it otherwise would. How have political bloggers acted as disseminators and creators of news? In my experiences of managing and blogging about Wonkosphere, a web site which tracks the candidate's buzz using patented natural language processing technology, I have noticed the following about the political blogs we track.

Blogs and the political process

First, political blogs are important to the political process because they surface more news and opinion, and disseminate it more rapidly, than MSM. This can be both a threat and an opportunity. Second, campaigns use the political blogosphere as a laboratory to test the stickiness of the candidate's messages, about themselves and the opponents. Finally, MSM looks to the political blogosphere as an "early adopter," and thus the political blogs, by paying attention to certain things and ignoring others, drive a part of MSM's agenda.

In order to understand the role of bloggers as early adopters, I turn to the work of Everett Rogers and his classic book "Diffusion of Innovations", which is the bible concerning how both tangible innovations (like a product) and intangible innovations (like an idea) diffuse in a society.

He identified that there are different "types" of people per when they adopt: first the innovators adopt the new entity, then early adopters, followed by the early majority, late majority, and finally laggards. In Rogers' theory, early adopters are the most important group in terms of the likelihood of broad diffusion, as they take the bold ideas from the innovators and mold them for adoption by the pragmatic early majority.

In a political context, Roger's model implies that political ideology is first adopted, or not, by political bloggers who act as both innovators and early adopters. In turn the rest of the voting public reads and is influenced by bloggers’ opinions, thus bloggers become a secondary communication medium for the candidates, either supplementing or competing against the candidate’s own communications.

Will bloggers vote in the same way that the general populace does? According to Roger's theory, the answer would be yes. As people at the front-end of the adoption curve, bloggers have to "adopt" before the general populace does.

Not all bloggers adopt the same idea -- as ideological leaders, their views are going to tend to be more intense and diverse, and more ideological and less pragmatic. Nevertheless, bloggers in the aggregate will tend to move ahead of the curve and thus be predictive. Indeed, statistical analysis of the Wonkosphere Primary Campaign data indicated that changes in buzz share in both the conservative and liberal blogospheres were predictive of changes in voter polls two weeks later.

Imagine a funnel of political ideas. At the front-end of the funnel, many ideas exist in an ideological soup. The campaigns first use bloggers as innovators, listening to their feedback to hone their messages and frames, and then other bloggers in turn act as early adopters and help select and shape those ideological innovations in such a way that they are attractive to the early majority, i.e. the primary voter.

Supplements rather than substitutes

Finally, how are political blogs the same or different from MSM? Through Wonkosphere, we have noticed that political blogs are consumed in much the same manner as mainstream media is, which indicates that readers treat political blogs not as separate from, but rather as part of, mainstream media. Wonkosphere traffic is greatest on Monday, and tends to peak before breakfast, lunch and dinner, i.e. when people are cruising on the net to end a portion of their work day. Blogs act as newspapers for most.

Second, very few blogs break stories. From our data, the vast majority of bloggers still rely on mainstream media for the content they comment on. In fact, a blogger is just as likely to cite mainstream media as they are another blogger. Thus, bloggers are primarily amplifiers rather than sources of news.

Third, the popularity of political blogs tends to follow a Pareto (power) law, meaning that there are a few blogs that have hundreds of thousands of readers while most blogs only have a handful of readers. This means that the influence of blogs is distributed in the same way, leading to the development of elite blogs (MyDD, Townhall), in the same way we have elite mainstream media sources (New York Times, Newsweek).

Put together, these patterns imply that political blogs are acting as supplements to mainstream media, rather than substitutes for it. Their impact on the system is to increase volatility: blogs make most news spread faster, but sometimes they slow it down. Blogs spread fact, opinion, truth, and slander more rapidly -- it is not biased in that regard. Only a few blogs influence opinion most of the time, but any single blog has the potential to impact everyone. That’s why this year’s race is particularly exciting—will something break in the blogs that ends up being the tipping point?

-- Kevin Dooley, a professor of supply chain management in the W. P. Carey School of Business, is a world-known expert in the application of complexity science to organizations. He has co-authored two patents concerning Centering Resonance Analysis, a novel form of network text analysis, and is Chief Executive Officer of Crawdad Technologies, LLC. Crawdad provides text mining software and services for applications in marketing and academic research.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Russo-Georgia Conflict - Who's trying to start Cold War II?

Patrick J. Buchanan Asks Why Joe Biden isn't conducting public hearings to find out who caused this U.S. humiliation.
Truman refused to use force to break Stalin's Berlin blockade. Ike refused to intervene when the Butcher of Budapest drowned the Hungarian Revolution in blood. LBJ sat impotent as Leonid Brezhnev's tanks crushed the Prague Spring. Jimmy Carter's response to Brezhnev's invasion of Afghanistan was to boycott the Moscow Olympics. When Brezhnev ordered his Warsaw satraps to crush Solidarity and shot down a South Korean airliner killing scores of U.S. citizens, including a congressman, Reagan did – nothing.

These presidents were not cowards. They simply would not go to war when no vital U.S. interest was at risk to justify a war. Yet, had George W. Bush prevailed and were Georgia in NATO, U.S. Marines could be fighting Russian troops over whose flag should fly over a province of 70,000 South Ossetians who prefer Russians to Georgians.

The arrogant folly of the architects of U.S. post-Cold War policy is today on display. By bringing three ex-Soviet republics into NATO, we have moved the U.S. red line for war from the Elbe almost to within artillery range of the old Leningrad.

Should America admit Ukraine into NATO, Yalta, vacation resort of the czars, will be a NATO port and Sevastopol, traditional home of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, will become a naval base for the U.S. Sixth Fleet. This is altogether a bridge too far.

And can we not understand how a Russian patriot like Vladimir Putin would be incensed by this U.S. encirclement after Russia shed its empire and sought our friendship?

.....The swift and decisive action of Putin's army in running the Georgian forces out of South Ossetia in 24 hours after Saakashvili began his barrage and invasion suggests Putin knew exactly what Saakashvili was up to and dropped the hammer on him.

What did we know? Did we know Georgia was about to walk into Putin's trap? Did we not see the Russians lying in wait north of the border? Did we give Saakashvili a green light?

.....The war in Georgia has exposed the dangerous overextension of U.S. power. There is no way America can fight a war with Russia in the Caucasus with our army tied down in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nor should we. Hence, it is demented to be offering, as John McCain and Barack Obama are, NATO membership to Tbilisi.

The United States must decide whether it wants a partner in a flawed Russia or a second Cold War. For if we want another Cold War, we are, by cutting Russia out of the oil of the Caspian and pushing NATO into her face, going about it exactly the right way.

Vladimir Putin is no Stalin. He is a nationalist determined, as ruler of a proud and powerful country, to assert his nation's primacy in its own sphere, just as U.S. presidents from James Monroe to Bush have done on our side of the Atlantic.

.....Who rules Abkhazia and South Ossetia is none of our business. And after this madcap adventure of Saakashvili, why not let the people of these provinces decide their own future in plebiscites conducted by the United Nations or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe?

As for Saakashvili, he's probably toast in Tbilisi after this stunt. Let the neocons find him an endowed chair at the American Enterprise Institute.
I have to ask: We partitioned Ex-Yugoslavia? Why not Ex-Georgia?

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