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London Eye Lights up Based on Tweet Tally of Olympic Excitement

July 24, 2012


With the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London this year, Americans don’t have to worry about all the discomforts which come with hosting such a grand world-wide event. Unfortunately for Londoners, they do, but the general attitude towards the games has been changing quickly from day to day—sometimes people are pumped up with excitement, and sometimes people (especially taxi drivers dealing with limited road access) can only grumble.

Now the ever-changing mood in light of the games can be seen on a grand scale worthy of the games themselves: the London Eye will light up once a night in a pattern reflecting the prevailing sentiment about the games that day.

The strangest part is the pattern will be decided based on the buzz gathered through Twitter (News - Alert). That’s right, Twitter-users who share their opinion of the Olympics in 140 characters or less will essentially be tallying their vote for the color of the day, most likely without even realizing it.

EDF Energy, a major UK energy company and sponsor of the London Eye, hired a group of MIT (News - Alert) engineers to bring this unusual project to fruition. The team of college students worked to develop an algorithm that scans Olympic-related tweets for positivity and negativity, then assigning each tweet a certain number of points based on the intensity of the feeling expressed.

Positive mentions of the Olympics will win points for yellow, while negativity will earn points for purple, and the giant Ferris wheel will light up the water on the River Thames alerting London to the winner at the end of each day.

The algorithm is complicated, and the MIT students worked hard to ensure the result each night will be a reliable one, even given the nature of a social networking site like Twitter, where expressing feeling does not boil down to simple “likes” such as on Facebook (News - Alert).

For instance, if a tweet is 75 percent positive, the London Eye will turn yellow by about 75 percent, so the coloring will work on a gradient scale which goes between yellow and purple.

Extreme excitement would result in pure and bright yellow, extreme negativity resulting in clear purple.

The algorithm works by checking tweets against an existing library of some 2,750 words and phrases, each given a rating of their own. The database includes emoticons and non-standard English words and expressions, too, such as “omg,” and takes into account intensifiers like multiple exclamation marks, the use of “very,” or even words like “totes.”

There is no question, given such an encompassing algorithm, the resulting color will relay the public’s feeling as accurately as possible—at least for the majority of the public which uses Twitter.

For those interested in viewing the light shows live, you can see them online here. Interestingly, leading up to the games yellow has seemed to dominate.  

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Edited by Rich Steeves