Tweets and Instagram posts could have the potential to save lives as first responders use an online platform called Social Media Analytics and Reporting Toolkit, created by Purdue’s Visual Analytics for Command, Control and Interoperability Environments.
With Hurricane Dorian still active around the Bahamas, graduate research assistant Luke Snyder said the app is being put to good use for monitoring events and creating situational awareness.
The SMART app can filter out keywords from social media posts and use geotags to track the location of the post.
Every post is displayed on a map and color-coordinated in the app. Instagram posts are represented by the color orange, tweets are purple and all new posts are marked with blinking yellow. The older the post, the more transparent the dot becomes.
The app allows the user to create classifiers that each have their own keywords. For example, one classifier can be “weather”, with “rainy,” “storm” or “lightning” as its keywords. If the weather classifier is selected, only posts with those keywords will show up.
“There is a lot of visualization out there for social media data,” team member Jingjing Guo said. “The specialty of this lab is that we work on interactive data visualization, so that means we have to process huge amounts of data in real-time.”
One visualization of the app includes the heat map, which shows the density of tweets in different geographical areas.
“So, if you have clusters and tweets around Orlando, you can see that these are where the hotspots so to speak are,” Snyder said.
Another feature is the tweet cluster lens, which operates as a magnifying glass on a digital map and populates the keywords within an area that have been used.
“This is also really useful during an event when you want to just look at one area and say you want to determine if anyone has posted relevant words for your classifiers,” Snyder said.
At recent conferences, Twitter has discussed potentially turning off geotagging, which is a concern that Snyder has.
“It’s important to stress that we are getting all of the geotag data, but only a small portion of tweets are geotags,” Snyder said. “So basically, 1% of tweets are geotagged.”
Currently, SMART only streams free data from Twitter API, but the new version of SMART will be commercialized and will pay for Twitter API.
“This is very, very interdisciplinary research,” Guo said. “We want to do data visualization (and) data science, including some advanced machine learning, (artificial intelligence), but we also want to understand the use perspective. So, we want to design a system that’s very intuitive and very helpful in daily operations of our users.”
The app has over 300 users from 70 different organizations, though it is mostly used by first responders. Though the app is free, users must get approval from the center to create an account.