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Predicting the Future?Yesterday Yahoo was granted a patent they filed in 2009 that allows them to use the internet and how people are acting on the internet to predict future outcome of events.

That’s right, predicting the future. Their patent includes formulas and methods that use internet activity to provide a general prediction for how something will happen. From the patent itself:

“Such methodology may be used to predict any of a variety of event outcomes. For example, the methodology can be used to predict movie box office revenues, music album sales, results of reality shows (e.g., American idol, Big brother etc.), subscriber bases of TV shows, attendance/ticket sales for various community events, election results, etc. “

They give the example of the movie Wall-E from 2008. Using the system presented in this patent, the movie was predicted to have weekend revenues of $61.91 million. How much did it end up making? $63 million. Not exact, but that’s pretty close.

Being able to closely predict outcomes like this is a big step. But the real issue appears if you take it one step farther. Think about it from a marketer’s point of view. If this technology becomes more mainstream and people start to pay attention to it, someone in marketing will want to “use the system” by finding a way to make an event appear to have a good future. Theoretically, this strategy could guarantee that the event would have a good future because people will believe the prediction technology. If everyone believes that a movie will make a lot of money opening weekend, they will assume it will be a good movie, and therefore they would go see it and the movie will make a lot of money. By altering the prediction of the future, a marketer can alter the future itself.

Which would then make this technology obsolete unless it evolves. It could become the same as search engines and SEO. At first, search engines were relatively easy to “manipulate” by people looking to promote their websites – ie. keyword stuffing, invisible text, and all other currently black-hat SEO practices. But the search engines evolved and soon seemed to always be one step ahead of search engine marketers. That is really what saved the industry – search engine optimization is now a legitimate marketing technique that succeeds based on ethical practices. If search engines had not evolved, they would likely now be obsolete because the results would not be organic enough to provide a useful service for its users.

The question is, can Yahoo do the same with this new patent? If not, then they might as well throw it away right now. But if they can find ways to make these predictions accurately while excluding the influence of unethical spamming or black-hat type practices, it could create a whole new type of strategic internet marketing. Just as SEO was born because of the evolution of search engines, so will this new marketing technique come to life if Yahoo can successfully develop this prediction technique.

It may be a little hard to wrap your head around right now, but anyone looking to get ahead of the competition might want to keep track of what Yahoo does with this new patent. This might even be the trump card the Yahoo/Microsoft team needs to finally overtake Google.

Jamie Bates
Online Marketing Director