maandag 26 mei 2014

Elections’ Epilogue: What Have We Learned?

First the good news: a MAD of 1.41 Gets the Bronze Medal of All Polls!

The results from the Flemish Parliament elections with all votes counted are:

 Results (source: Het Nieuwsblad)
SAM’s forecast
20,48 %
18,70 %
Green (Groen)
8,7 %
8,75 %
31,88 %
30,32 %
Liberal democrats (open VLD)
14,15 %
13,70 %
13,99 %
13,27 %

Table1. Results Flemish Parliament compared to our forecast

And below is the comparative table of all polls compared to this result and the Mean Absolute Deviation (MAD) which expresses the level of variability in the forecasts. A MAD of zero value means you did a perfect prediction. In this case,with the highest score of almost 32 % and the lowest of almost six % in only six observations  anything under 1.5 is quite alright.

Table 2. Comparison of all opinion polls for the Flemish Parliament and our prediction based on Twitter analytics by SAM.

Compared to 16 other opinion polls, published by various national media our little SAM (Social Analytics and Monitoring) did quite alright on the budget of a shoestring: in only 5.7 man-days we came up with a result, competing with mega concerns in market research.
The Mean Absolute Deviation covers up one serious flaw in our forecast: the giant shift from voters from VB (The nationalist Anti Islam party) to N-VA (the Flemish nationalist party). This led to an underestimation of the N-VA result and an overestimation  of the VB result. Although the model estimated the correct direction of the shift, it underestimated the proportion of it.
If we would have used more data, we might have caught that shift and ended even higher!


Social Media Analytics is a step further than social media reporting as most tools nowadays do. With our little SAM, built on the Data2Action platform, we have sufficiently proven that forecasting on the basis of correct judgment of sentiment on even only one source like Twitter can produce relevant results in marketing, sales, operations and finance. Because, compared to politics, these disciplines deliver far more predictable data as they can combine external sources like social media with customer, production, logistics and financial data. And the social media actors and opinion leaders certainly produce less bias in these areas than is the -case in political statements. All this can be done on a continuous basis supporting day-to-day management in communication, supply chain, sales, etc...
If you want to know more about Data2Action, the platform that made this possible, drop me a line: 

Get ready for fact based decision making 
on all levels of your organisation

zaterdag 24 mei 2014

The Last Mile in the Belgian Elections (VII)

The Flemish Parliament’s Predictions

Scope management is important if you are on a tight budget and your sole objective is to prove that social media analytics is a journey into the future. That is why we concentrated on Flanders, the northern part of Belgium. (Yet, the outcome of the elections for the Flemish parliament will determine the events on Belgian level: if the N-VA wins significantly, they can impose some of their radical methods to get Belgium out of the economic slump which is not very appreciated in the French speaking south.)  In commercial terms, this last week of analytics would have cost the client 5.7 man-days of work. Compare this to the cost of an opinion poll and there is a valid add on available for opinion polls as the Twitter analytics can be done a continuous basis. A poll is a photograph of the situation while social media analytics show the movie.

 A poll is a photograph of the situation while social media analytics show the movie.

From Share-of-Voice to Predictions

It’s been a busy week. Interpreting tweets is not a simple task as we illustrated in the previous blog posts. And today, the challenge gets even bigger. To predict the election outcome in the northern, Dutch speaking part of Belgium on the basis of sentiment analysis related to topics is like base-jumping knowing that not one, but six guys have packed your parachute. These six guys are totally biased. Here are their names, in alphabetical order, in case you might think I am biased:

Dutch name
Name used in this blog post
CD&V (Christen Democratisch en Vlaams)
Christian democrats
Green (the ecologist party)
N-VA (Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie)
Flemish nationalists
O-VLD (Open Vlaamse   Liberalen en Democraten)
Liberal democrats
SP-A (Socialistische Partij Anders)
Social democrats
VB (Vlaams Belang)
Nationalist & Anti-Islam party
Table 1 Translation of the original Dutch party names

From the opinion polls, the consensus is that the Flemish nationalists can obtain a result over 30 % but the latest poll showed a downward trend breach, the Nationalist Anti-Islam party will lose further and become smaller than the Green party. In our analysis we didn’t include the extreme left wing party PVDA for the simple reason that they were almost non-existent on Twitter and the confusion with the Dutch social democrats created a tedious filtering job which is fine if you get a budget for this. But since this was not the case, we skipped them as well as any other exotic outsider. Together with the blanc and invalid votes they may account for an important percentage which will show itself at the end of math exercises. But the objective of this blog post is to examine the possibilities of approximating the market shares with the share of voice on Twitter, detect the mechanics of possible anomalies and report on the user experience as we explained at the outset of this Last Mile series of posts.

If we take the rough data of the share-of-voice on over 43.000 tweets we see some remarkable deviations from the consensus.
Share of voice on Twitter
Christian democrats
21,3 %
Green (the ecologist party)
8,8 %
Flemish nationalists
27,9 %
Liberal democrats
13,6 %
Social democrats
12,8 %
Nationalist & Anti-Islam party
11,3 %
Void, blanc, mini parties
4,3 %

Table 2. Percentage share of voice on Twitter per Flemish party

It is common practice nowadays to combine the results of multiple models instead of using just one. Not only in statistics is this better, Nobel prize winner Kahneman has shown this clearly in his work. In this case we combine this model with other independent models to come to a final one.
In this case we use the opinion polls to derive the covariance matrix.
Table 3. The covariance matrix with the shifts in market shares 
This allows us to see things such as, if one party’s share grows, at which party’s expense is it? In the case of the Flemish nationalists it does so at the cost of the Liberal democrats and the Nationalist and Anti-Islam party but it wins less followers from the Christian and the social democrats. The behaviour of Green and the Nationalist and Anti-Islam party during the opinion polls was very volatile, which explains for a part the spurious correlations with other parties.

Graph 1 Overview of all opinion poll results: the evolution of the market shares in different opinion polls over time.

Comparing the different opinion polls, from different research organisations, on different samples is simply not possible. But if you combine all numbers in a mathematical model you can smooth a large part of these differences and create a central tendency.
To combine the different models, we use a derivation of the Black-Litterman model used in finance. We are violating some assumptions such as general market equilibrium which we replace by a total different concept as opinion polls. However the elegance of this approach allows us to take into account opinions, confidence in this opinion and complex interdepencies between the parties. The mathematical gain is worth the sacrifice of the theoretical underpinning.
This is based on a variant of the Black-Litterman model  μ=Π+τΣt(Ω+τPΣPt)(pPΠ)

And the Final Results Are…

Central Tendency of all opinion polls
Data2Action’s Prediction
18 %
18,7 %
Green (the ecologist party)
8,7 %
8,8 %
31 %
30,3 %
14 %
13,7 %
13,3 %
13,3 %
9,4 %
9,8 %
Other (blanc, mini parties,…)
5,6 %
5,4 %
100 %
100 %

Table 4. Prediction of the results of the votes for the Flemish Parliament 

Now let’s cross our fingers and hope we produced some relevant results.

In the Epilogue, next week, we will evaluate the entire process. Stay tuned!

vrijdag 23 mei 2014

The Last Mile in the Belgian Elections (VI)

Are Twitter People Nice People?

The answer is: “Depends”. In this article I make a taxonomy of tweets in the last week of the Belgian elections. Based on over 35.000 tweets we can be pretty sure that this is a representative sample. You can consider this article as an introduction to tomorrow's headline: the last election poll, based on twitter analytics.

A picture says more than a thousand tweets

The taxonomy of the Twitter community

So here it is.  The majority of tweets are negative. When you encounter positive tweets, they are either from somebody who wants to market something (in case of the elections him or herself or a candidate he or she supports) or from somebody who is forwarding a link with a positive comment.
There is a correlation between the level of negativity about a subject and the political party related to the subject. From a political point of view, the polarisation between the Walloon socialist party and the Flemish nationalist party is clearly visible on Twitter.
Even today, on the funeral of the well-respected politician of the older generation, the former Belgian prime minister Jean-Luc Dehaene, the majority of tweets were negative. Tweets linking him to the financial scandal of the Christian democrat trade union in Dexia were six times more than the pious "RIP JLD" variants.
So how do you derive popularity and even arrive at some predictive value from a bunch of negative tweets?  That, my dear blog readers, will be examined tomorrow in the final article. 

donderdag 22 mei 2014

The Last Mile in the Belgian Elections (V)

Why Sentiment Measures Alone Are Not Enough

In the process of developing Social Analytics and Monitoring, we learnt something most interesting about sentiment analysis. Before we created Data2Action  as a platform for data mining and developed SAM (Social Analytics and Monitoring) we studied many approaches.
Many of these were just producing numbers to express sentiment versus a brand, a person, a concept or a company, to name a few.
Isolated Sentiment Analysis is Meaningless
This can be too superficial to produce meaningful analytic results so we recreated social constructs that match with concepts. Analysing the sentiment of a construct element in context with a topic is not a trivial task. But at least it approaches human judgement and it can be trained to increase precision and relevance.
Today, I am not going to amaze you with Big Numbers but I’ll show you some examples of how we approach sentiment analysis with SAM.
Let’s take a few tweets about the N-VA party and examine how they are scored:
The ultimate horror for companies and a torpedo for our welfare state: an anti N-VA coalition with the ecologist party
Another point where N-VA does not represent the Flemish people
From a one-dimensional point of view, both tweets are negative for N-VA but the first is in fact meant as a positive, pro N-VA statement.
Let us look at this, more complex tweet:
Vande Lanotte opens up the coalition for the Green Party, wrong move as the voters already consider N-VA strong enough.
The first part of the sentence “Vande Lanotte opens up the coalition for the Green Party” can be considered positive for Vande Lanotte and his socialist party SP-A. But the second part is negative. This shows the importance of parsing the sentence correctly and attributing scores as a function of viewpoints.

woensdag 21 mei 2014

The Last Mile in the Belgian Elections (IV)

How Topic Detection Leads to Share-of-voice Analysis

It was a full day of events on Twitter. Time to make an inventory of the principal topics and the buzz created on the social network in the Dutch speaking community in the north of Belgium.
First, the figures: 10.605 tweets were analysed of which 5.754 were referring to an external link (i.e. a news site or another external web site like a blog, a photo album etc…)
As the Flemish nationalist party leader Mr. Dewever from N-VA (the New Flemish Alliance in English) launched his appeal to the French speaking community today, we focused on the tweets about, to and from this party.
A mere 282 tweets were deemed relevant for topic analysis. And here’s the first striking number: of these 282 tweets only 16 contained a reactive response. 
Tweets that provoked a reactive response are almost nonexistent

About 49 topics were grouping several media sources and publications of all sorts. We will discuss three to illustrate how the relationship between topic, retweets, klout score and added content makes some tweets more relevant than others. These are the three topics:

  • Dewever addresses the French speaking community via Twitter
  • Christian Democrat De Clerck falsely accuses N-VA of using fascist symbols in an advertisement
  • You Tube movie from N-VA is ridiculed by the broad community 

Dewever addresses the French speaking community via Twitter

This topic is divided in a moderately positive headline and two neutral ones. The positive: Bart Dewever to the French Speaking Community: “Give N-VA a Chance”
This headline generates a total klout score of 188 where the Flemish tv station VRT takes the biggest chunk with 158 klout score.
This neutral headline generates only 98 klout score: “Dewever puts the struggle between N-VA and the French speaking socialist party at the centre of the discussion”
The other neutral headline “N-VA President Bart Dewever addresses the French speaking community directly” delivers a higher score: 140 klout score partly because one of N-VA’s members of Parliament promoted the link to the news medium.
All in all with 426 total klout score, this topic does not cause great ripples, especially not if you compare this to a mere anecdote, which is the second topic.

Christian Democrat De Clerck falsely accuses N-VA of using fascist symbols in an advertisement

On the left, the swastika hoax, commented by the christian democrat and in the right the original ad showing a labyrinth

Felix De Clerck, son of the former Christian democrat minister of Justice Stefaan De Clerck, reacted to a hoax and was chastised for doing this. With a klout score of 967 this has caused a bigger stir although the political relevance is a lot smaller than Dewever’s speech… Emotions can play a role even in simple and neutral retweets.

You Tube movie from N-VA is ridiculed by the broad community

Another day’s high was reached with an amateuristic and unprofessional YouTube movie which showed a parody on a famous Flemish detective series to highlight the major issues of the campaign. This product from the candidates in West-Flanders, including the Flemish minister of Interior Affairs, Geert Bourgeois generated a total klout score of 778 tweets and retweets with negative or sarcastic comments.
Yet an adjacent topic about a cameraman from Bruges who is surprised by minister Bourgeois’ enthusiasm generates a 123 moderately positive klout score.

Three topics out of 49 generate 20.6 % of total klout scores!

This illustrates perfectly how the Twitter community selects and reinforces topics that carry an emotional value: the YouTube movie and the hoax from De Clerck generated a share of voice of no less than almost 17% of the tweets.

Forgive me for reducing the scope to Flanders, the political scope to just one party and the tweets to only three because this blog has not the intention of presenting the full enchilada. I hope we have demonstrated with today’s contribution that topics and the way they are perceived and handled can vary greatly in impact and cannot be entirely reduced to numbers. In other words, the human interpreter will deliver added value for quite a long time.

dinsdag 20 mei 2014

The Last Mile in the Belgian Elections (III)

Awesome Numbers... Big Data Volumes

Wow, the first results are awesome. Well, er, the first calculations at least are amazing.

  • 8500 tweets per 15 seconds measured means 1.5 billion tweets per month if you extrapolate this in a very rudimentary way...
  • 2 Kb per tweet = 2.8 Terabytes on input data per month if you follow the same reasoning. Nevertheless it is quite impressive for a small country like Belgium where the Twitter adoption is not on par with the northern countries..
  • If you use  55 kilobytes for a  model vector of 1000 features you generate 77 Terabyte of information per month
  • 55 K is a small vector. A normal feature vector of one million  features generates 72 Petabytes of information per month.

And wading through this sea of data you expect us to come up with results that matter?
We did it.

Male versus female tweets in Belgian Elections
Gender analysis of tweets in the Belgian elections n = 4977 tweets

Today we checked the gender differences

The Belgian male Twitter species is clearly more interested in politics than the female variant: only 22 % of the 24 hours tweets were of female signature, the remaining 78 % were of male origin.
This is not because Belgian women are less present on Twitter: 48 % are female tweets against 52 % of the male sources.
Analysing the first training results for irony and sarcasm also shows a male bias. the majority of the sarcastic tweets were male: 95 out of 115. Only 50 were detected by the data mining algorithms so we still have some training to do.
More news tomorrow!

maandag 19 mei 2014

The Last Mile in the Belgian Elections (II)

Getting Started

I promised to report on my activities in social analytics. For this report, I will try to wear the shoes of a novice user and report, without any withholdings about this emerging discipline. I explicitly use the word “emerging” as it has all the likes of it: technology enthusiasts will have no problem overlooking the quirks preventing an easy end to end “next-next-next” solution. Because there is no user friendly wizard that can guide you from selecting the sources, setting up the target, creating the filters and optimising the analytics for cost, sample size, relevance and validity checks, I will have to go through the entire process in an iterative and sometimes trial-and-error way.
This is how massive amounts of data enter the file system
Over the weekend and today I have been mostly busy just doing that. Tweet intakes ranged from taking in 8.500 Belgian tweets in 15 seconds and doing the filtering locally on our in memory database to pushing all filters to the source system and getting 115 tweets in an hour. But finally, we got to an optimum query result and the Belgian model can be trained. The first training we will set up is detecting sarcasm and irony. With the proper developed and tested algorithms we hope for a 70% accuracy in finding tweets that express exactly the opposite sentiment of what the words say. Tweets like “well done, a**hole” are easy to detect but it’s the one without the description of the important part of the human digestive system that’s a little harder.
The cleaned output is ready for the presentation layer
Conclusion of this weekend and today: don’t start social analytics like any data mining or statistical project. Because taming the social media data is an order of magnitude harder than crunching the numbers  in stats.

Let’s all cross our fingers and hope we can come up with some relevant results tomorrow.

woensdag 14 mei 2014

The Last Mile in the Belgian Elections

Sentiment Analysis, a Predictor of the Outcome?

Data2Action is an agile data mining platform consisting of efficiently integrated components for rapid application development. One deliverable of Data2Action is SAM, for Social Analytics and Monitoring.
In the coming days, I will publish the daily results from sentiment analysis on Twitter with regards to the programmes, the major candidates and interest groups.

Data2Action and social analytics

Stay tuned for the first report on Monday 19th May

Questions like:

  • Which media produce the most negative or positive tweets about which party, which major candidate?
  • Who are the major influencers on Twitter?
  • What are the tweets with the highest impact?
The major networks will stimulate lots of tweets this weekend so we will present the analysis next Monday.

zaterdag 3 mei 2014

What has Immanuel Kant got to do with it??

Making a Success of New BI Tool Introduction

In the previous post I indicated the five major causes why BI consultants fail to introduce a new BI tool in the organisation. As promised, I have not just raised questions but I am ready to provide you with some answers.
Some of my colleagues in Business Intelligence commented on the LinkedIn discussion forum. I will quote their comments and integrate them in this post.
It is all about embedding the tool in a larger setting, larger than the competences of one BI specialist.
Some people won’t like to read this. The reason is simple: positioning the BI tool in a very broad, organisation wide vision goes beyond the competences of a technical project lead.  The approach requires teamwork and input of business analysts, strategic consultants and change managers. It requires more time and budget and both are scarce resources in an organisation. 
But if you look at the wasted time and money in remedial efforts to get the new BI tool on the road, you can consider the extra effort and resources as an insurance premium. Because you can only make a first impression once. 

These are the seven steps to successful introduction I will address in the article on my book site BA4BI:

* Get a deep insight in the organisation’s DNA
* Understand its strategy
* Understand its information needs
* Assess the information modelling acceptance in the organisation
* Translate the previous in the tool’s requirements
* Introduce the tool 
* Develop the decision making culture with the new tool

vrijdag 2 mei 2014

Questions to Ask Ralph Kimball the 10th June in 't Spant in Bussum (Neth.)

Dear Ralph,

I know you’re a busy man so I won’t take too much of your time to read this post. I look forward to meeting you June 10 in 't Spant in Bussum for an in depth session on Big Data and your views on the phenomenon.
In one of your keynotes you will address your vision on how Big Data drives the Business and IT to adapt and evolve. Let me first of all congratulate you with the title of your keynote. It proves that a world class BI and data warehouse veteran is still on top of things, which we can’t say for some other gurus of your generation, but let’s not dwell on that.
I have been studying the Big Data Phenomenon from my narrow perspective: business analysis and BI architecture and here are some of the questions I hope we can tackle during your keynote session:

1. Do you consider Big Data as something you can fit entirely in star schemas? I know since The Data Webhouse Toolkit days that semi structured data like web logs can find a place in a multidimensional model but some of the Big Data produce is to my knowledge not fit for persistent storage. Yet I believe that a derived form of persistent storage may be a good idea. Let me give you an example. Imagine we can measure the consumer mood for a certain brand on a daily basis, scanning the social media postings. Instead of creating a junk-like dimension we could build a star schema with the following dimensions: a mood dimension, social media source dimension, time, location and brand dimension to name the minimum and a central fact table with the mood score on a seven point Likert scale. The real challenge will lie in correctly structuring the text strings into the proper Likert score using advanced text analytics. Remember the wrong interpretation of the Osama Bin Laden tweets early May 2011? The program interpreted “death” as a negative mood when the entire US was cheering the expedient demise of the terrorist.
Figure 1: An example of derived Big Data in a multidimensional schema

2. How will you address the volatility issue?  Because Big Data’s most convincing feature is not volume, velocity or variety which have always been relative to the state of the art. No, volatility is what really characterizes Big Data and I refer to my article here where I point out that Big Behavioural Data is the true challenge for analytics as emotions and intentions can be very volatile and the Law of Large Numbers may not always apply.
3. Do you see a case for data provisioning strategies to address the above two issues? With data provisioning, I mean a transparent layer between the business questions and the BI architecture where ETL provides answers to routine or planned business questions and virtual data marts produce answers to ad hoc and unplanned business questions. If so, what are the major pitfalls of virtualization for Big Data Analytics?
4. Do you see the need for new methodologies and new modeling methods or does the present toolbox suffice?

It’s been a while since we met and I really look forward to meeting you in Bussum, whether you answer these questions or not. 

Kind regards,

Bert Brijs