USA Today features “Senti-meter”

USA Today featured the success of the “Senti-meter,” a project that relies on new sophisticated analytics and natural language recognition technologies to gauge positive and negative opinions shared in millions of public tweets.

The Senti-meter is a joint project among the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab, IBM, and the Los Angeles Times, who most recently measured social media sentiment related to the 84th Academy Awards.

From USA Today:

The Oscars pegged The Artist as the year’s best film and its protagonist, Jean Dujardin, as 2011’s best actor. Meryl Streep carried her third Oscar offstage as Best Actress for The Iron Lady. And although USA TODAY’s review of the awards show described Streep’s shock at her “upset,” one map of public opinion says it really wasn’t surprising.

IBM and the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California created the Senti-Meter this winter to measure social media buzz about Oscar-nominated films, actresses and actors.

Hosted by the Los Angeles Times, the Senti-Meter counted tweets about the nominees every day. It also arranged them on a continuum based on how positive or negative those tweets were.

Because so many people talked about these movies, it was a fairly accurate representation of public sentiment, said Gabriel Kahn, professor of Professional Practice at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

“In order to do something like this, you need an event that’s going to generate a lot of data,” Kahn said. “Everybody has an opinion on it one way or the other, and that’s the other component. . .What kinds of things are people saying?. . .There’s kind of a like or dislike component to a lot of the tweets out there that allows us to apply a Senti-meter, a metric, that helps us draw out a larger meaning to this.”

On Feb. 22, the Wednesday before the awards ceremony, users tweeted about Streep 4,188 times — nearly 14 times as much as they talked about the second most popular actress, Viola Davis of The Help. Also, conversation about Streep was more positive than any other actress’ chatter.

Actors’ popularity was more volatile, but generally, George Clooney (The Descendants), Brad Pitt (Moneyball), Jean Dujardin (The Artist) and Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) dominated conversation after the Academy announced its Oscar nominees on Jan. 24.

Fans commented on The Artist, Hugo, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Help and Moneyball profusely in the week leading up to the Oscars. But one of the most consistently popular items was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two – and much of its Twitter commentary was about the Best Picture nomination that the Academy didn’t offer.

“There’s a huge disconnect between who wins and what the public thinks, and that’s just the nature of the Academy Awards,” Kahn said. “You’ve got fewer than 6,000 people who vote on this. There’s no predictive component to (the Senti-meter). . .One guy in the Academy is 101 years old, and guess what? He’s not on Twitter.”

The Academy doesn’t often recognize blockbusters like the Harry Potter franchise, but now that public opinion is not just accessible but measurable, Kahn believes their habits could change.

“I do believe the Academy wants to find avenues for the public to feel more engaged,” Kahn said. “When Avatar was up against The Hurt Locker (for Best Picture in 2010), well, nobody had seen The Hurt Locker… This allows us to measure the relevance of the Academy.”

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