Cities Could Use Your Tweets To Build Better Infrastructure

People are much more likely to complain about the conditions of their city over Twitter than through official channels. Now cities can use those complaints to their advantage.

These days, people are more likely to gripe about civic issues on Twitter than actually talk to city officials. But in some cases, that social media activity is all a city needs.

This week, IBM unveiled the results of its Social Sentiment Index on traffic in India. The index, which looked at 168,330 comments on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites and "derived 54,234 High Value Snippets through a series of advanced filtration techniques for insight analysis," reveals some strong conclusions about traffic in the country, and how city planners might alleviate it in the future.

Here are highlights of what the Index found:

  • Factors influencing traffic and congestion (according to social media users) varied among cities. People in Bangalore were concerned about overall driving problems, parking, and construction; Mumbai residents were worried about pollution, accidents, and private transportation, and people in Delhi discussed weather, commuting stress, and public transportation.
  • Delhi residents are more stressed than people in Mumbai and Bangalore—possibly because of a recent power outage, weather events, and rallies.
  • Social media conversations about parking in Bangalore are three times more negative than in other cities.
  • According to social media, negative sentiments about rush hour strongly impact traffic in Delhi, which may be why residents are more stressed than in other cities.
  • Social media sentiment about construction was positive in Delhi and Bangalore, and people felt positively and negatively about infrastructure in those cities in equal measure. That means recent transportation infrastructure improvements may be already easing stress.

How can all this data actually assist cities? It potentially helps them gauge the success of already-completed transportation infrastructure projects, highlights the pain points of different cities, and indicates where better public transportation options are needed—and at what times of day. This is all especially useful in India, where infrastructure change is happening quickly.

This isn’t the first time IBM has used its Social Sentiment Index. In the past, it has been used to analyze sentiment about Memorial Day travel in the U.S., determine fan favorites in the World Series, and more.

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  • Anjali Mahendra

    Such an analysis is interesting for a place like New York City (ref. comment by Fred Truman) or another city in the "developed" world.  For Indian conditions, while the comparison between cities is interesting, whose opinions are these?  Such an analysis will do more harm than good because it is skewed; it captures only the views of the elite minority of transportation users -- the internet-using, possibly car owning ones.  This type of analysis is the last thing we need in working towards a more equitable, sustainable, inclusive transportation system in our cities -- one where infrastructure investment improves everyone's quality of life, not just the upper income minority. 

  • Fred Truman

    A simple application called BKME performs a similar task: asking cyclists in NYC to report cars parked in bike lanes through a simple geo-located #hashtag. Over time the data reveals pain points and where the city might effectively invest in better alternative transportation support.