Tweets, Geospatial analysis, giraffes and a little bit of museums for good measure: What I got from the Casa Seminar: Harvesting the Crowd

Yesterday I went to my first CASA seminar, and it was great!  Well the second half was, the first half involved a lot of equations about Thermodynamics and I didn’t have a clue what was going on, and I chose an unfortunate seat near the front, I was slightly terrified that he might ask the group to solve said equations. I have trouble adding up numbers let alone Greek letters.  I’m sure it was brilliant, but unless you have a firm basis in maths or thermodynamics I don’t think you would have stood a chance.  Then came the good stuff, the stuff I understand, and the stuff that makes me happy: Social Media, visualisations, maps (I am a closet geospatial nerd who has no geospatial abilities- I’m like superman on kryptonite) animal logos and to my happy surprise a bit about museums.

Steve Gray and Fabian Neuhaus provided an overview of the tools in CASA’s crowd sourcing toolkit; SurveyMapper, Tweet-o-Meter and the Twitter Collection tools.  There has been a massive explosion of handheld mobile devices with GPS as well as a move to crowdsourcing info this has produced a heck of a lot of online geospatial data.  Add newly released public sector data and you get yourself an exciting situation where people can take that data and turn it into something more interesting.  CASA work on integrating tools for unlocking, exploiting, understanding and sharing new data sets and to also enable users have a go at mapping and spatial analysis.

Firstly Steve talked about Survey Mapper –  a real time geographic survey tool.  What I like about survey mapper is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  It knows it’s doing clever stuff behind the scenes, but presents a friendly giraffe – you can’t not love a giraffe – with an easy to use interface.  One of the survey’s Steve discussed was the BBC’s Look East Broadband speed survey which produced a lot of responses over 6500 in a day I think (I might be wrong on that one).

Tweet-o-meter – This is genius and really beautiful too.

Tweet-o-Meter is powered by CASA, as part of the NeISS project. Created by Steven Gray

Tweet-o-meter harvests geospatial data from Twitter with the aim of creating a series of new city maps based on Twitter data.  Data is collected from tweets sent via a mobile device that includes the location at the time of sending the tweet. Via a radius of 30km around different cities, for example the number of Tweets have been collated to create New City Landscape Maps of London, New York and Paris.

Created by Urban Tick

I think this is a beautiful analogy for twitter activity where contours correspond to the density of tweets, mountains rise in active twitter locations and cliffs drop down in to valleys of tweet deserts.

UrbanTick has the full set of the different new city landscapes, all available in  Google Maps viewer (I think)- head over to take a look at the gorgeousness.

Steve and Fabian discussed that there are now 60 cities around the world that have their tweets monitored over the period of one week.  Amsterdam is a top tweeter with over 50% geolocated tweets. Whereas London which is still a really active city send on average send about 10%  geolocated tweets. Visualisations clearly showed that different cities seem to be more active in the morning and others in the evening, producing some lovely looking kidney shapes.  The data also shows that different days of the week are more conducive to tweeting, for example  Monday and Tuesday are generally less active than the rest of the week.

Data was also collected during the early days of the Egyptian revolution in Cairo.  It was really interesting to see how the protests and internet blackout affected twitter activity.  For example when the big internet switch was flicked back on the data shows an immediate rise in geolocated tweets.

And then came something that I got really excited about and something that I could really use in my PhD… Andy, Steve, Fabian … if you’re reading this, can you show me how to do it? Pretty please!? I will buy you cake. Lots of it.

Tweeting art –  Most museums are now using Twitter and CASA have taken that information and turned it into really awesome spider like explosions of communication network visualisations.  Showing how different museums (the examples given included Tate and MoMA) link in to the wider twitter network and also how they link to each other  so in essence how the institutions interact with other users and how this connects them into an entangled social network.  For example Tate and MoMa tweet to roughly the same followers but don’t really tweet to each other.   I think this is fascinating, particularly if it can show if museums are only using Twitter as a broadcast medium – pushing marketing out, or whether they are creating a engaging discussions and digital experiences with their followers.

It was fascinating to be part of the seminar not only where people were talking about Twitter in a active exciting research context and sensible manner, and where questions from the audience were serious, and probing and engaged in the topic.  Rather than asking ridiculous questions from anti social Media people where Twitter is a waste of time, full of pointless babble which makes yooths mediocre there was brilliant questions about how do you model for uncertainty, what proportion of users geotweet? Does this skew the data?what about frequency and text mining to find out more about context.  It was brilliant.  I was engaged. And it reminded me that I am not out of my depth in this whole digital humanities thang, I do know what I am talking about, and this is a growing research field doing so much cool stuff, I am an alt academic and proud.

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