Mike Isaac

Recent Posts by Mike Isaac

For Olympic Games, Tweets Will Turn the London Eye Into a Giant Mood Ring

It’s hard to accurately portray the predominant emotion surrounding any major event. Those of us in the working press rely upon certain devices, using quotes from an individual to capture an overall mood, pegging sentiment to an exceptional quote or a well-timed photograph.

This is exactly the aim of Energy of the Nation, a joint venture between the United Kingdom’s EDF Energy Group and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, focused on capturing the emotion of those in the U.K. who are bearing witness to the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. But instead of publishing words and photos to newsprint, EDF is doing it a bit differently: The group will use audience tweets as its stock-in-trade.

The EDF will analyze tweets centered around the Games throughout the course of the Olympics, and will use those tweets to power a spectacular light show at 9 pm and 10 pm every evening.

The focal point? The London Eye, the tallest Ferris wheel in all of Europe, and a renowned U.K. tourist destination that sits right off the river Thames. Tweets lighting up the Eye are based on the feelings extrapolated from the millions of Twitter messages flowing through the stream.

Professor Mike Thelwall of the University of Wolverhampton and a band of MIT grads will use access from the raw Twitter firehose, scanning them to see if they’ve originated within the U.K. If so, the team then scans each tweet to see if it contains any specific words or hashtags — Olympics, #energy2012 and others related to the Games — to see if they’re relevant to the overall sentiment measurement.

After making it through those filters, tweets are met with a sentiment algorithm which attempts to measure the type of sentiment caught within the tweet. Adjectives that describe feelings are, of course, taken into account, but also punctuation and even emoticons will measure nonverbal forms of sentiment. The tweets are then scored, and the positive and negative emotions are tallied up over the course of each day.

Those results are distilled, creating the basis for the 24-minute light show displayed on the London Eye twice each evening. And if you aren’t there to watch the show yourself, there is, of course, an app to track the flow of positive and negative tweets around the U.K.

Will real-world data visualizations render the emotion of the Games better than our usual methods? Perhaps, and perhaps not. One thing is certain, though: If the crowds don’t go for it, they can certainly let it be known over Twitter.


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