Sitaram Asur can predict the future. His crystal ball: Twitter, which the HP Labs researcher taps to forecast box-office returns. The algorithm, which he developed with colleague Bernardo Huberman, predicts opening-weekend tallies, with 97.3% accuracy, by measuring theater counts and related tweet volume; then, to discern if a film has legs, it accounts for the ratio of positive tweets to negative ones. It's all part of Asur's larger effort to find value in social-media streams. "I don't just sit in a lab closed away from the world," he says. "I like to be aware of what's happening around me."
The things that trend [on Twitter] don't last very long. So it's important to keep track of what's going on all the time.