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How good is Twitter for discovering what’s happening locally?

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How good is Twitter for discovering what’s happening locally?

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Twitter has frequently been heralded as the hot new source of news for breaking stories, although research suggests that we still tend to rely on more mainstream sources for the bulk of our news.

Whilst the appeal of Twitter from the perspective of breaking news is quite a clear one, it’s perhaps less successful at delivering the kind of local news that is often overlooked by the mainstream media.  My own attempts to find news in my own neighbourhood on Twitter have been generally unsuccessful, which in a city like London, which is believed to be one of the hottest on the planet for tweeters, is not a good sign.

A new service, called Neighborhood Buzz, has recently been launched by the Knight Foundation to try and rectify that situation.  The site is an experimental system designed to help you find out what people in your neighbourhood are talking about on Twitter.

It’s a US based site, so London wasn’t an option, but nevertheless the process looked interesting.  Using the site is pretty straightforward.  You select your neighbourhood from a city map, at which point the site will display the main topics that people in that neighbourhood are discussing.  You can then drill down into those topics to find individual tweets.

So, for instance, in Denver Heights in San Antonio, the most popular topic appears to be healthy living, although closer inspection suggests the classification of some of these tweets is a little sketchy to say the least.  Fear not though, for you can suggest a reclassification of a tweet you feel is ill suited to its current home.

The system also lets you see, at a glance, how much people in different neighborhoods in a city are talking about a given topic through a “heat map” overlay on the city’s geographical map.

The site bases its maps on tweets made with geo data attached to them.  Obviously this narrows the data set considerably, with a relatively small proportion of total tweets currently made with location tags attached, but the developers believe this segment is still sufficient to provide interesting data for neighbourhoods.

The site was developed at Northwestern University’s Knight Lab and involved students and faculty from the Medill School of Journalism and the McCormick School of Engineering, Dept. of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, at Northwestern. It was then re-architected and further developed at the Knight Lab.

Suffice to say, the site is very much in its early stages at the moment, and it will need more work before it receives any kind of critical mass attention, but nevertheless it’s a fascinating concept that might shed some light on what topics are hot in particular areas.  Here’s hoping that it extends overseas before long so I can try it out in London.

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