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Jan. 26 2010 - 10:56 am | 174 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments

The Predictive Power of Search


What kinds of things can be predicted just by looking at search-query volume? How about box-office grosses (pictured above) and video game and music sales? That’s from a new research article [PDF] by Yahoo’s Sharad Goel, Jake Hofman, Sebastien Lahaie, David Pennock, and Duncan Watts.

What they found:

We [Goel et al.] investigate the degree to which search behavior predicts the commercial success of cultural products, namely movies, video games, and songs. In contrast with previous work that has focused on realtime reporting of current trends, we emphasize that here our objective is to predict future activity, typically days to weeks in advance. Specifically, we use query volume to forecast opening weekend box-office revenue for feature films, first month sales of video games, and the rank of songs on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. In all cases that we consider, we find that search counts are indicative of future outcomes, but when compared with baseline models trained on publicly available data, the performance boost associated with search counts is generally modest–a pattern that, as we show, also applies to previous work on tracking flu trends. We [Goel et al.] conclude that in the absence of other data sources, or where small improvements in predictive performance are material, search queries may provide a useful guide to the near future.

As Andrew Gelman puts it: “this is a big whoop, because, in an automatic computing environment, it could be a lot easier to gather/analyze search volume than to build those baseline models.”

Seems like a nice quick-and-dirty way to make weekend box-office projections. For people who care about that sort of thing.

HT: Statistical Modeling


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    I'm a freelance writer and blogger based in Brooklyn, NY. My background is mostly in politics. I've worked on the editorial boards of the New York Sun and New York Post. In 2006, I wrote a book, "The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party" (Wiley). I've also done my share of freelancing, for places like the Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, Reason, and RealClearPolitics.

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