October 29, 2014

Who is psychic enough to declare the winners of the NBA early? BookVibe volunteers


William Pearce of BookVibe claims that Twitter gives enough information about Man Booker Prize contenders for the company to predict who will win. BookVibe reports that it correctly guessed the winner of the Booker and will prove itself with the National Book Award next, based on tweets before the award is announced on November 19.

And after that? The Oscars.

So now that Paul the Octopus is no longer with us, a start-up is ready to take his place? Too soon, BookVibe. Somebody nudge Nelly the Elephant to step in on the NBAs.

BookVibe says that book prizes are “not a popularity contest,” but that they use special powers to measure the tweets “quantitatively,” which is… different somehow? Pearce explains the Booker prediction:

The favorite, Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others, was not getting a lot of attention. In fact, it had the lowest number of tweets of all the finalists….

J by Howard Jacobson was being read by TV chef Nigella Lawson (679,000 followers), We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves picked up support from TV actress Daphne Zuniga (46,000 followers) but The Narrow Road to the Deep North stole the show with a ringing endorsement from Senator John McCain (1.9 million followers).

Obviously, the prize is not simply a popularity contest, so we next looked at the effect the book had on people. Tweets may be short, but it became apparent very quickly that it was Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North—a fictionalized account of his grandfather’s time as a prisoner of war of the Japanese during the World War II—that moved people most deeply.

This explanation makes very little of the process clear at all. Maybe the best predictor is not “popularity,” but John McCain himself, who seems to have picked the winner for BookVibe. We should all send him copies of Emily St. John Mandel‘s Station Eleven.

The most surprising factoid has nothing to do with being psychic, and it is tucked in the middle of the article: of the 500 million tweets BookVibe processes every day, only 0.04% reference books.


Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.