Big Data Stocks? Invest in Data, not in Tools.

April 25th, 2013 by Ravi Iyer

I want to invest in “big data stocks”.  After all, everyone is saying that big data is the future of health care, education, government, business, and will literally change the world.  As someone who works with data both as an academic at USC and as the principal data scientist at Ranker, I am the type of person who is likely to make and believe in such hyperbolic claims.  I recently put money into my IRA and needed to invest it and as someone who believes in investing in what I know about, naturally I wanted to invest in our data driven future.

Where should I invest?  If you look around the internet, you’ll find a number of recommendations from places like Forbes or The Street.  The general consensus appears to be to take the “picks and shovels” approach to investing in big data, where you invest in the companies that make the tools that enable people to use data, rather than in the data itself.  I’m writing this post because I think this is absolutely the wrong approach.  I believe in investing in data, not in tools.  Why do I believe that?

- My experience in academia has taught me that simple statistics and tools are often the most reliable. If there is signal to be detected, any analysis and/or tool should be able to find it.  Many people turn to more complex statistics when they don’t find the right relationship using simple statistics.  In psychology, people are finding that the use of  more complex models (e.g. covariates) is often an indicator that the study’s results may be less likely to be reliable.  Given the size of datasets that we often have in data science, we often don’t need special statistical techniques to find relationships in data as we have so much statistical power that most tools and techniques should give you convergent results.  Put simply, the tools matter less than the data.

- The most popular tools and techniques are often open source. You can do a lot with R, Python, Gephi, Mahout, etc.

- Yes, there are advantages to using particular distributions of open source tools (e.g. Hadoop distributions that come with particular features), but there are so many companies out there offering different flavors of products that do essentially the same thing, that I can’t see how any particular company is going to be the next Apple or Google, in terms of stock growth.  There are no barriers to entry in the tools market.  Perhaps a company will be the next RedHat, which may be a fine business to be in, but I don’t believe that that is the revolutionary wave that investors in big data stocks are looking for.

So what should you do if you want to invest in big data?  Buy stock in companies that have the best, biggest, most unique sets of data and/or the most defensible ways of collecting that data.  I invested my IRA money into Facebook, which has the biggest and best dataset of human behavior that ever existed.    I invest my academic time into scalable data collection projects such as YourMorals, BeyondThePurchase, and ExploringMyReligion, confident that that will lead to the most long-term knowledge.  And I invest my professional time into Ranker, which has a scalable process for collecting an opinion graph, that will be essential for the kinds of intelligent applications that big data futurists have been promising us.

Do you want to invest in big data?  Generally, you’ll get better returns if you invest your money, time, and energy in data, rather than in tools.

- Ravi Iyer

Posted in academia, big data, business of psychology, data science, ranker, technology | No Comments »

Predicting Box Office Success a Year in Advance from Ranker Data

April 22nd, 2013 by Ravi Iyer

A number of data scientists have attempted to predict movie box office success from various datasets.  For example, researchers at HP labs were able to use tweets around the release date plus the number of theaters that a movie was released in to predict 97.3% of movie box office revenue in the first weekend.  The Hollywood Stock Exchange, which lets participants bet on the box office revenues and infers a prediction, predicts 96.5% of box office revenue in the opening weekend.  Wikipedia activity predicts 77% of box office revenue according to a collaboration of European researchers.  Ranker runs lists of anticipated movies each year, often for more than a year in advance, and so the question I wanted to analyze in our data was how predictive is Ranker data of box office success.

However, since the above researchers have already shown that online activity at the time of the opening weekend predicts box office success during that weekend, I wanted to build upon that work and see if Ranker data could predict box office receipts well in advance of opening weekend.  Below is a simple scatterplot of results, showing that Ranker data from the previous year predicts 82% of variance in movie box office revenue for movies released in the next year.

Predicting Box Office Success from Ranker Data
Predicting Box Office Success from Ranker Data

The above graph uses votes cast in 2011 to predict revenues from our Most Anticipated 2012 Films list.  While our data is not as predictive as twitter data collected leading up to opening weekend, the remarkable thing about this result is that most votes (8,200 votes from 1,146 voters) were cast 7-13 months before the actual release date.  I look forward to doing the same analysis on our Most Anticipated 2013 Films list at the end of this year.

- Ravi Iyer

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Crowdsourcing Objective Answers to Subjective Questions – Nerd Nite Los Angeles

April 9th, 2013 by Ravi Iyer

A lot of the questions on Ranker are subjective, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot use data to bring some objectivity to this analysis.  In the same way that Yelp crowdsources answers to subjective questions about restaurants and TripAdvisor crowdsources answers to subjective questions about hotels, Ranker crowdsources answers to a broader assortment of relatively subjective questions such as the Tastiest Pizza Toppings, the Best Cruise Destination, and the Worst Way to Die.

A few weeks ago, I did an informal talk on the Wisdom of Crowds approach that Ranker takes to crowdsource such answers at a Los Angeles bar as part of “Nerd Nite”.  The gist of it is that one can crowdsource objective answers to subjective questions by asking diverse groups of people questions in diverse ways.  Greater diversity, when aggregated effectively, enables the error inherent in answering any subjective question to be minimized.  For example, we know intuitively that relying on only the young or only the elderly or only people in cities or only people who live in rural areas gives us biased answers to subjective questions.  But when all of these diverse groups agree on a subjective question, there is reason to believe that there is an objective truth that they are responding to.  Below is the video of that talk.

If you want to see a more formal version of this talk, I’ll be speaking at greater length on Ranker’s methodologies at the Big Data Innovation Summit in San Francisco this Friday.

- Ravi Iyer

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Posted in data science, ranker | 2 Comments »

Crowdsourcing Objective Answers to Subjective Questions – Nerd Nite Los Angeles

April 9th, 2013 by Ravi Iyer

A lot of the questions on Ranker are subjective, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot use data to bring some objectivity to this analysis.  In the same way that Yelp crowdsources answers to subjective questions about restaurants and TripAdvisor crowdsources answers to subjective questions about hotels, Ranker crowdsources answers to a broader assortment of relatively subjective questions such as the Tastiest Pizza Toppings, the Best Cruise Destination, and the Worst Way to Die.

A few weeks ago, I did an informal talk on the Wisdom of Crowds approach that Ranker takes to crowdsource such answers at a Los Angeles bar as part of “Nerd Nite”.  The gist of it is that one can crowdsource objective answers to subjective questions by asking diverse groups of people questions in diverse ways.  Greater diversity, when aggregated effectively, enables the error inherent in answering any subjective question to be minimized.  For example, we know intuitively that relying on only the young or only the elderly or only people in cities or only people who live in rural areas gives us biased answers to subjective questions.  But when all of these diverse groups agree on a subjective question, there is reason to believe that there is an objective truth that they are responding to.  Below is the video of that talk.

If you want to see a more formal version of this talk, I’ll be speaking at greater length on Ranker’s methodologies at the Big Data Innovation Summit in San Francisco this Friday.

- Ravi Iyer

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The Moral Foundations of Environmentalists

April 4th, 2013 by Ravi Iyer

I was recently asked about the Moral Foundations scores of those who are more concerned about the environment and so I analyzed the 15,522 individuals who took the Moral Foundations Scale on YourMorals.org and also answered a question on the Schwartz Values Scale concerning how much of a guiding principle of their life it was to “Protect the Environment”.  I limited this analysis to those who placed themselves on the liberal-conservative spectrum, so that I could also control both for ideology and extremity of ideology, to some degree.  The results (beta weights controlling for other variables) of the regression analyses, predicting a desire to “Protect the Environment”, are below.

Moral Foundations of Environmentalism

My initial intuition was that ideology would be the greatest predictor, given how political the issue has become, but it appears that the Care/Harm foundation actually predicts as much unique variance as ideological identification.  From an intuitionist standpoint, this makes sense as the specific care you feel for Polar Bears may drive one’s values more than more abstract concerns about the ocean’s water level, similar to the way that charities appeal to emotions with specific cases of need as opposed to statistics.  Still a great deal of variance is indeed predicted by which ideological team you are on.

Also interesting to me was the significant, but small, negative relationship between ingroup loyalty and attitudes toward the environment.   The item I used from the Schwartz Values scale is part of a subscale designed to measure Universalism, which relates to Peter Singer’s idea that we should expand our moral circles.  While it is certainly possible to care both about one’s smaller circle/family and one’s larger circle/animals/trees, there is some tension there, especially in a world with limited resources where environmental choices that benefit the world at large, may negatively impact one’s local community.

There are certainly limitations to these results taken from a particular sample, so take them with a grain of salt.  And there remains a healthy debate about which moral concerns are more central, so there certainly are moral concerns that may predict environmental attitudes that are not measured here.  Still, these results converge well with what we see in the world.  Environmentalists tend to be liberals who are particularly concerned about the welfare of distant others, perhaps expanding their moral circle to include animals, oceans, and trees www.otcsildenafil.net.
– Ravi Iyer

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Your Values Predict the Stories You Choose

March 26th, 2013 by Ravi Iyer

Human beings are storytelling animals. There is no other species that spends large amounts of time watching the lives of others – fictitious or real – through the stories we read or watch. Stories do not just relate to the entertainment we consume, but are also central to the news we read or the companies that we resonate with. One of my favorite personality psychology theories concerns how our entire lives can be thought of as a set of narratives that bring coherence to our goals, desires, values, dispositions, and experiences.

I’ve recently been working with Zenzi, a communications company based in San Diego, that is attempting to leverage research on values to, among other things, better inform how companies can better engage with consumers. A good marketing campaign is one which doesn’t feel like someone is trying to sell something to you, but rather where there are shared goals between the company and consumer that are highlighted. Whereas these goals can be mundane (e.g. trading money for food), they are increasingly becoming more value driven. As such, kamagra oral jelly ajanta pharma, a key communications strategy for the post-modern world is learning to tell a company story that resonates with one’s clients deeper motivations. How can research on values help you do that?

One of the central tenets of the research we do is that values are not monolithic. Different people value different things and these values predict the kinds of stories that one enjoys. I recently conducted some research on yourmorals.org, where I examined the kinds of stories that different value types prefer. The below graph shows the correlations between dimensions of the Schwartz Values scale and questions concerning story type preferences, specifically relating to whether a person likes stories that provide an escape (e.g. I like stories that provide an escape from my real life) or stories that people can identify with (e.g. I like stories about situations that I can relate to). Note that it is entirely possible to enjoy both kinds of stories and most people do. Still, there is an inherent tension between giving people an escape and giving people stories they can relate to, and the below graph suggests how one might resolve that tension differently, depending on the values of one’s target audience.

Correlations between Schwartz Values and Story Preferences

People who value Power, Achievement, Spirituality, Tradition, Conformity, and Security seem to prefer stories that are closer to them, which they can relate to. In contrast, individuals who value Universalism, Self-Direction, Stiumulation, and Hedonism report a greater preference for stories that provide more of an escape from their everyday existence.

Whether you are a journalist considering how to frame a story, a screenwriter considering a plot twist, a marketer considering how to position a brand, or a novelist considering one’s next book, it helps to know your target audience‘s values when considering the kind of story you want to tell.

- Ravi Iyer

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Money and Happiness: Materialists Not Happier When Purchasing Life Experiences

March 18th, 2013 by Ryan

Every day more and more people are trying to understand the relationship between money and happiness. Numerous studies have shown that spending money on life experiences, compared to material possessions, improves psychological well-being. However, not everyone feels happier when purchasing life experiences. Psychologists have begun to study the psychological consequences of different motivations for experiential purchasing. They have found that purchasing experiences for intrinsic reasons, such as personal satisfaction, leads to more well-being than purchasing experiences for extrinsic reasons, such as trying to impress others.

For example, my colleagues, Jia Wei Zhang and Peter Caprariello, and I surveyed nearly 1000 adults and found that a person’s motivation for making a purchase predicts whether psychological needs are satisfied when spending money on life experiences (DOI:10.1007/s10902-012-9357-z).

In a recent study we conducted in my lab, using the data we collected on BeyondThePurchase.org, we were interested in individuals’ motivation for spending money on life experiences. Visitors to the website completed the Materialistic Values Scale and the Motivations for Experiential Buying Scale as well as a happiness quiz. Results indicated that people who had greater materialistic values were more likely to buy experiential items for extrinsic reasons, such as showing off or impressing others. This suggests that materialistic individuals may not feel happiness from experiences because they spend money on experiences to pursue extrinsic goals. Individuals who choose life experiences to gain recognition from others reported feeling less autonomous, competent and connected to others.

These results may shed light on why materialists tend to be less satisfied with their lives. Materialists may perceive experiential items as another possession they want ‘to have’, instead of ‘to do’. Therefore, they spend money on life experiences for the same reason they pursue material possessions–to show off to others. Because materialists tend to pursue extrinsic goals whenever spending their money, their purchases are not making them happier (even their life experiences).

To increase life satisfaction materialists, therefore, may want to focus on the intrinsic benefits of life experiences, such as representing one’s identity or improving interpersonal relationships, as opposed to how these experiences will be perceived by others. When you make your next purchase, the biggest question you have to ask yourself is why you are buying something. Motivation appears to amplify or eliminate the happiness effect of a purchase.

At BeyondThePurchase.Org we help people understand the relationship between money and happiness. To better understand the benefits of specific consumer choices, we continue to investigate the relationships between consumer preferences, psychological needs, happiness, and values at our website by allowing people to take tests on personality. To learn about what might be influencing how you think about and spend your money, register with Beyond The Purchase, then take a few of our personality quizzes:

Can money buy happiness? Take our experiential buying survey and on your feedback page you will learn how to spend your money to be happier.

How do I find happiness in life? Take our happiness quiz and find out your happiness score.

Is shopping an addiction? Take the compulsive buying scale and learn about your spending habits. We think you may learn a lot about what causes you to part with your hard-earned money.

With these insights, you can better understand the ways in which your financial decisions affect your happiness. Responses to these surveys will also help researchers further understand the connection between money and happiness.

Jia Wei Zhang, Ryan T. Howell, Peter A. Caprariello. Buying Life Experiences for the “Right” Reasons: A Validation of the Motivations for Experiential Buying ScaleJournal of Happiness Studies, 2012.

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What Is Happiness? Five Characteristics of Happy People

March 11th, 2013 by Ryan

My research team and I just completed a study to examine the differences in how happy people live their lives compared to people who are unhappy. Because we were interested in several characteristics of happy people, we examined the predictors of happiness from 30 different surveys. These surveys measured people’s spending habits, consumer choices, values, and personality traits. Results indicated that happy people make five little decisions every day that improve their well-being.

What are five importance differences between happy and unhappy people based on our recent consumer behavior studies?

Happy people manage their money well. Something that anyone can do every day is to make a budget and track their financial transactions so they don’t make impulsive purchases. Research suggests that individual will manage their money better when they have a clear goal—your money management goal could be to pay off a credit card, save for a comfortable retirement, or to start saving towards an emergency fund. Our data shows that if you manage your money better today, you will be happier tomorrow.

Happy people spend their money on life experiences instead of material items. Almost ten years of research has investigated the effects of investing money in life experiences, as opposed to material items. There is now robust evidence that when people spend their money on life experiences they are happier than when they spend their money on material items. However, our data shows that people who habitually spend their money on life experiences are happier than people who tend to buy material items.

Happy people think about the past fondly. Perhaps unique among all animals, humans have the capacity to travel backward and forward in time—to use the “specious present” both to relive past life events and to think about the future. Our data shows that happy people appear to live in the past, reliving the ecstasy, but ignoring the agony, of days gone by. When happy people think about their past they focus on their good memories instead of dwelling on the negative parts.

Happy people “catch” the emotions of others. Some people are vulnerable to experiencing others’ emotions–they are sensitive “catch” others’ emotions during joyful (and sorrowful) experiences. Our data shows that when someone smiles warmly at happy people, they smile back and feel warm inside. Therefore, if you pay more attention to the emotions of other people you will be happier.

Happy people live in a great community. A person is happiest when three basic psychological needs are satisfied: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Literally thousands of studies demonstrate the positive effect of psychological need satisfaction on happiness. Our data shows that these psychological needs can be met by one’s community. Happy people say that they feel belongingness where they live and that they look forward to coming home when they have been away.

At BeyondThePurchase.Org we help people understand the relationship between money and happiness. To better understand the benefits of specific consumer choices, we continue to investigate the relationships between consumer preferences, psychological needs, happiness, and values at our website by allowing people to take tests on personality. To learn about what might be influencing how you think about and spend your money, register with Beyond The Purchase, then take a few of our personality quizzes:

Can money buy happiness? Take our Spending Choices and Happiness survey and on your feedback page you will learn how to spend your money to be happier.

How do you find happiness? Take our happiness quiz and find out your happiness score.

Is shopping an addiction? Take the Compulsive Buying Scale and learn about your spending habits.

You can also learn how well do you manage money by taking our Money Management quiz and if you focus more on the past, present, or future when you take the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory.

With these insights, you can better understand the ways in which your financial decisions affect your happiness.

Posted in unpublished results | 2 Comments »
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Why Be Spiritual? Five Benefits of Spirituality

March 5th, 2013 by Ryan

Spiritualism–a search for something sacred–is an increasingly important topic to people today. Individuals approach the realm of spirituality through religion, meditation, yoga, or even personal reflection. In a recent study we conducted in my lab, using the data we collected on BeyondThePurchase.org, we investigated the personal and societal benefits of spiritualism by examining participants’ responses to over 30 surveys. Here are the top five positive characteristics of spiritual people:

Spiritual people are gracious. Psychology has demonstrated that expressing gratitude is associated with many positive emotions such as optimism, being generous with time and resources, and overall vitality. Spirituality encourages people to be positive, which may be expressed in many of these life practices.

Spiritual people are compassionate. Experiencing compassion toward others is one the strongest correlates with living a spiritual life. A variety of positive or pro-social emotions have strong links with spiritualism, including allowing one to feel good about the little things in life and look at the world through empathetic eyes.

Spiritual people flourish. Spirituality is linked to many important aspects of human functioning–spiritual people have positive relationships, high self-esteem, are optimistic, and have meaning and purpose in life.

Spiritual people self-actualize. Spiritual individuals strive toward a better life and consider personal growth and fulfillment as a central goal. Spirituality can be considered to be a path toward self-actualization, because it requires people to focus on their internal values and work on becoming a better individual.

Spiritual people take time to savor life experiences. Individuals who value spirituality take the time to reflect on their daily activities and ultimately build lasting memories of their experiences. Because spiritual people are more conscious of small, daily activities, they experience positive emotions associated with the smaller pleasures in life.

To better understand the benefits of specific consumer choices, we continue to investigate the relationships between consumer preferences, psychological needs, happiness, and values at our website. At BeyondThePurchase.Org we help people make the connection between their spending habits – how do you spend your money and who do you spend it on – and their happiness. To learn about what might be influencing how you think about and spend your money, Login or Register with Beyond The Purchase, then take a few of our spending habits quizzes:

What do you value in your daily life? Take the Schwartz Values Scale where you can compare your values on 10 dimensions from hedonism to benevolence.

Which spending decisions will make you happiest? Take our Spending Choices and Happiness survey and on your feedback page you will learn how to spend your money to be happier.

How happy are you these days? Take our Happiness and Life Satisfaction quiz and find out your happiness score.

With these insights, you can better understand the ways in which your daily decisions affect your happiness.

Posted in moral psychology, Uncategorized, unpublished results | 2 Comments »
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The Opinion Graph predicts more than the Interest Graph

January 26th, 2013 by Ravi Iyer

At Ranker, we keep track of talk about the “interest graph” as we have our own parallel graph of relationships between objects in our system, that we call an “opinion graph”.  I was recently sent this video concerning the power of the interest graph to drive personalization.

The points made in the video are very good, about how the interest graph is more predictive than the social graph, as far as personalization goes.  I love my friends, but the kinds of things they read and the kinds of things I read are very different and while there is often overlap, there is also a lot of diversity.  For example, trying to personalize my movie recommendations based on my wife’s tastes would not be a satisfying experience.  Collaborative filtering using people who have common interests with me is a step in the right direction and the interest graph is certainly an important part of that.

However, you can predict more about a person with an opinion graph versus an interest graph. The difference is that while many companies can infer from web behavior what people are interested in, perhaps by looking at the kinds of articles and websites they consume, a graph of opinions actually knows what people think about the things they are reading about.  Anyone who works with data knows that the more specific a data point is, the more you can predict, as the amount of “error” in your measurement is reduced.  Reduced measurement error is far more important for prediction than sample size, which is a point that gets lost in the drive toward bigger and bigger data sets.  Nate Silver often makes this point in talks and in his book.

For example, if you know someone reads articles about Slumdog Millionare, then you can serve them content about Slumdog Millionare.  That would be a typical use case for interest graph data. Using collaborative filtering, you can find out what other Slumdog Millionare fans like and serve them appropriate content.  With opinion graph data, of the type we collect at Ranker, you might be able to differentiate between a person who thinks that Slumdog Millionare is simply a great movie versus someone who thinks the soundtrack was one of the best ever.  If you liked the movie, we would predict that you would also like Fight Club.  But if you liked the soundtrack, you might instead be interested in other music by A.R. Rahman.

Simply put, the opinion graph can predict more about people than the interest graph can.

- Ravi Iyer

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