So, going back to the original idea as it was pitched at CityCamp Brighton, what we’re looking to make is a website that takes the twitter feeds of local councilors and places them on a map of the city – divided by ward – so people who aren’t on twitter can easily see what conversations are happening and where. As well as showing you what’s happening currently, you’d also be able to access a data store of old tweets and find out what conversations had happened in the past.
There are a few reasons why I thought this would be useful:
- Not everyone is on Twitter, this removes one barrier to the conversation
- Not everyone who is on Twitter wants to follow their local councilors, or even knows who they are to follow them
- This would provide at-a-glance information on who is engaging with Twitter, and who isn’t
- This would give easy access to older conversations, something that can be tricky to pinpoint on Twitter itself
- This may also help provide an easy to understand format for other councilors to see which colleagues are on twitter and how well they are doing, ie are there social benefits for them joining if they are not
Giving people access to this data will also, hopefully, allow them to begin to do more with it. People who want to can start to visualise the data in interesting ways, or use it to highlight prior conversations on a new hot topic – something that I hope would let them challenge or support arguments easily.
We already have a very basic version of this data store up and running here http://hawksey.info/tagsexplorer/arc.html?key=tlOCp17OFt65MJzPn3aLyeA using the open source Twitter Archiving Google Spreadsheet http://mashe.hawksey.info/2012/01/twitter-archive-tagsv3/ which gives us some data to play with.
So, the next step in our journey is that I’m off to BlueLightCamp http://bluelightcamp.wordpress.com on the 27th to look for some people that can put the next stages of code together at BLC’s hack day on the 28th. But, you ask, BLC is an unconference/hackathon for the emergency services, what interest would they have in Brighton councillor’s tweets? Well that’s where the bigger picture of the idea comes in, as it was BLC’s Sasha Taylor that looked at my idea with some perspective and saw a whole other use for it.
If we strip away the council side of things, what we’re left with is a site that aggregates information from Twitter onto a map, and not a map of where the data is created (which is quite common, as many tweets have geo-location data attached) but where it is relevant. In the council example our leader could be speaking at a conference in Edinburgh, but we’d still need his tweets to appear on the map in his Regency ward back in Brighton. So what we’re looking to create is a tool that anyone would be able to pick up, feed in the @ names of the feeds they want to track, and pin them to a map in a location of their choice. That map would need to be user defined, and able to be overlaid with boundary information – in the council example it would be ward data, but the police may want to monitor tweeting policemen and need beat boundaries – and use it to create a publicly viewable website.
This tool could also be used internally so that those that manage social media channels can easily see the number of tweets per “team/person” for a given area and the quality via the archive – this can then be used to judge who needs further support etc.
I should stress what we’re hoping to achieve from BLC isn’t a finished flashy product (though if anyone is able to create that in a day they’re sure to walk away with the prize money!) what the project needs is the under the hood code that makes the flashy website possible. As with the TAGS archiving, a number of these elements are available already to build on, but I’ve not been able to find anything that pulls them together in this way so the milestones we’re looking for are:
- Being able to feed in @ names and collate data into an archive – there is a further step to the TAGS archive that would be useful here, and that’s capturing the tweets of the other half of conversations, currently only the tweets of specified councilors are being captured
- Creating a tool to define the area of a map that the tweets are relevant to
- Overlaying that map with boundary data or defined area
- Pinning tweet streams to that map (this could be from live streams or from the archive)
- Making it pretty (or at least easy enough on the eye so it’s engaging/usable)
- Packaging it so others can use it easily under open license
At this stage we’re all about the function and the data, how it looks will follow both the data working and what you’re planning on using the data for. Simple things like the scale of the map you’re defining and how many feeds you’re wanting to pin will have a huge impact on the look, so it makes sense to just get the tool functional first. And of course we want all of this to be open source and freely available to anyone who has a need.
So as an incentive for the valiant BLC hackers we have a prize, cold hard cash, the universal motivator!
The project was awarded a £500 fund from CityCamp Brighton to get it moving, so that’s coming to BlueLightCamp as it’s the coders that the project really needs to move on.
We need a proof of concept to take it forward to seek any further funding, so we’ll be defining some cash amounts for reaching each of the milestones on the day, with the potential that if they’re not all reached more can be paid out from the fund for work done after the event to polish things off.
I hope that’s got some people inspired, I’m really looking forward to BlueLightCamp as though I’ve been to a few unconferences now this will be my first with a dedicated hack day, and I’m excited to see what comes from that across all the projects.