April 23, 2013

Tracking personal activity at AAG: A cautionary tale of big data and lack of sleep

At FloatingSheep we are always seeking to push the envelop in terms of user-generated data, and so when it came to our attention that someone we know was sporting a Nike Fuelband, we couldn't resist taking a quick look at the data. For those of you unfamiliar with the Fuelband, it is a bracelet one wears to capture activity and exercise and "precisely" measure caloric consumption. Even better, it awards "points" so that you and your cyborg friends can compete for bragging rights. To be honest, we don't quite understand the appeal, but have little doubt everyone will be sporting these things in the near future as we bow down to our digital overlords happily greet each new consumer product as it arrives.

In any case, a well-known friend of the sheep (FOTS)[1] was sporting one at the recent annual meetings of the Association of American Geographers two weeks ago and was kind enough (or suffers from some sort of twisted exhibitionism) to share the data with us so that we could share it with you (see below). This FOTS was kind enough to also add yellow ellipses during his/her sleep periods and a handy counter of the daily ration of sleep (in terms of hours).

To provide a bit of a base line, the days before the conference (which began on Tuesday) are also included.  Note, the conference was in LA (Pacific Time) but the data is presented  in Eastern time, so the activity is actually three hours later than indicated in the chart. The big takeaway here is that this FOTS had only 13 hours of sleep from Tuesday to Sunday (mostly between 4 am and 8 am) until s/he boarded a plane and collapsed on Sunday. Given the crude nature of the data, other patterns are harder to distinguish but peaks in the late evening or early morning suggest dancing or other activities.

While just looking at this chart makes us tired (as well as giving us a headache) it does allow for some preliminary observations:
  • There is an important late-night component to the AAG (and academic conferences more generally) that deserves further study...sounds like a good field opportunity for auto-ethnography;
  • A cost saving measure for certain conference attendees (such as this FOTS) would be simply to not get a hotel room and stay up the entire time; and
  • Some people are having a lot more fun (or more precisely, activity) at the AAG than us.
We have no doubt that we'll be seeing more of this individual daily monitoring data in the months/years to come, and are placing bets on how long before it becomes smoothly integrated with GPS (the technology is already there) in order to produce spatial activity maps for everyone [2]. No more bragging about going to the gym (and then hanging out at the refreshment bar) or calling in sick so that you can go skiing. The data will know!

[1] But if you think you know who it is, feel free to leave a comment.  Chances are that you are right.
[2] Think Hagerstrand's space-time prism on steroids. 

April 19, 2013

New Article Published in Cartography and Geographic Information Science

We're happy to report that our article -- Beyond the geotag: situating 'big data' and leveraging the potential of the geoweb -- has been published in Cartography and Geographic Information Science as part of a special issue on "Mapping Cyberspace and Social Media", edited by Ming-Hsing Tsou and Michael Leitner. The article was written collaboratively amongst the five sheep, as well as Jeremy Crampton and Matt Wilson of the University of Kentucky. The abstract and full citation for the paper are below:
This article presents an overview and initial results of a geoweb analysis designed to provide the foundation for a continued discussion of the potential impacts of ‘big data’ for the practice of critical human geography. While Haklay's (2012) observation that social media content is generated by a small number of ‘outliers’ is correct, we explore alternative methods and conceptual frameworks that might allow for one to overcome the limitations of previous analyses of user-generated geographic information. Though more illustrative than explanatory, the results of our analysis suggest a cautious approach toward the use of the geoweb and big data that are as mindful of their shortcomings as their potential.

More specifically, we propose five extensions to the typical practice of mapping georeferenced data that we call going ‘beyond the geotag’: (1) going beyond social media that is explicitly geographic; (2) going beyond spatialities of the ‘here and now’; (3) going beyond the proximate; (4) going beyond the human to data produced by bots and automated systems, and (5) going beyond the geoweb itself, by leveraging these sources against ancillary data, such as news reports and census data. We see these extensions of existing methodologies as providing the potential for overcoming existing limitations on the analysis of the geoweb.

The principal case study focuses on the widely reported riots following the University of Kentucky men's basketball team's victory in the 2012 NCAA championship and its manifestation within the geoweb. Drawing upon a database of archived Twitter activity – including all geotagged tweets since December 2011–we analyze the geography of tweets that used a specific hashtag (#LexingtonPoliceScanner) in order to demonstrate the potential application of our methodological and conceptual program. By tracking the social, spatial, and temporal diffusion of this hashtag, we show how large databases of such spatially referenced internet content can be used in a more systematic way for critical social and spatial analysis.
Crampton, J.W., M. Graham, A. Poorthuis, T. Shelton, M. Stephens, M.W. Wilson and M. Zook. 2013. Beyond the Geotag: Situating ‘Big Data’ and Leveraging the Potential of the Geoweb. Cartography and Geographic Information Science 40(2): 130-139.

If you'd like the final publication version and don't have institutional access to the article, feel free to email any of us to get a copy.

April 17, 2013

Mapping the Boston Marathon Bombing

The tragedy in Boston this week shook us all. Several of us have strong ties to the area and the randomness and sheer viciousness of the event is stunning.

We noted that many people felt similarly and many took immediately to social media (such as Twitter) to participate in a larger discussion. Some used it to assure loved ones that they were OK while cell phone service was spotty. Some used social media to spread misinformation for personal gain or to make a political point. So too did the Boston Police and Fire Departments rely on social media to get a better idea of what actually happened. But the focus on social media's role in responding to the bombings neglected the intensely geographic element of such user-generated content as individuals and society tries to make sense of it all.  Thus, in an effort to document the diffusion of spatial awareness of the tragedy we offer the following analysis.

Using DOLLY, we collected all geotagged tweets in North America referencing "Boston" from March 1, 2013 through April 15, 2013. We've divided the data from the last month and a half into three separate temporal snapshots: from March 1 to March 31, from April 1 to April 15 at 2:45pm and, finally, April 15 from 2:45pm to 11:59pm, roughly the time following the first explosion on Boylston Street near the finish line of the race. While the visual differences in the maps below may be somewhat subtle, the data behind them is anything but.

For the entire month of March 2013, there were a total of 48,622 geotagged tweets with reference to "Boston", of which 44,221 had exact lat/lon coordinates. Of the 48K+ tweets, nearly half (23,895) of them were within Boston's city limits [1]. A fairly similar pattern was evident in tweets in the first half of this month, with 24,991 tweets total (23,151 had lat/lon coordinates attached) and 12,206 in Boston. These general trends were evident in earlier data as well, especially with respect to the pattern of roughly half of the references to the city being located within it.

References to "Boston" in the Continental USA, March 1 to April 15 [2]

But in the time since yesterday's bombing, tweeting activity about Boston has both intensified and dispersed. After 2:45pm EST on the 15th, there were 52,339 tweets in our dataset -- that is, several thousand more tweets in roughly nine-and-a-quarter hours than there usually are in an entire month, indicating an expected spike in overall activity as a result of the news coverage. But of these, a lower percentage (83.6%, as compared to 90.9% for March and 92.6% for the first half of April) were geotagged with exact lat/lon coordinates. And, perhaps most interestingly, an incredibly small number of these tweets originated within Boston.

Whereas roughly half of the tweets about Boston originated there in the earlier time frames, only 3% of tweets were located within the city following the bombings. All of this remains in stark contrast to the numbers from last year's Boston Marathon, where there were only 775 total mentions of the city in geotagged tweets from North America, with 333 (again, close to half) within the city. So not only was there a considerably smaller amount of geotagged tweeting, but so too did it remain concentrated largely within the city.

References to "Boston" in the Greater Boston Area, March 1 to April 15

In addition to the overall intensification of discussion about Boston in the wake of the bombing, there are a couple of distinct spatial patterns at play here. First, yesterday's tragic events led to discussion of Boston on Twitter to become much more spatially diffuse around the country. This is likely the result of a combination of things: people within the city tweeting less due to concerns for their own safety, people within the city not feeling it necessary to include "Boston" in all of their topically-relevant tweets, and a heightened interest nationwide in what is just the latest in a long string of violence in recent months.

But second, discussion of the city within the city is also more spatially dispersed. While the time frames prior to the bombing demonstrate a massive concentration of tweets in Downtown and the Back Bay -- the areas in closest proximity to the bombings, as well as some of the more densely populated during daytime hours -- tweeting activity after the bombings shows less focus on these areas and a more random spatial distribution throughout the greater Boston area, though these areas maintain the highest concentrations.

This analysis shows how established spatial patterns of place-based social media activity can be disrupted by extraordinary circumstances, such as a terrorist attack, as well as the importance of looking at how such spatial patterns change over time [3]. While there remains more one could do with this data -- including a focus on tweeting activity within particular spaces of the city near the bombing or looking beyond particular keyword searches, or using social network analysis to understand the spatial and temporal diffusion of the tragic news -- these maps and statistics provides an initial look at how tragedies such as these and the outpouring of emotions about them result in shifting geographies of social media activity.

[1] The greater Boston area -- including Cambridge, Somerville, Brookline, Newton, etc. -- were excluded from these counts for reasons of convenience.
[2] Note that both maps are in reverse chronological order, with the post-bombing time frame shown at the first in each series.
[3] There are also some important and potentially anomalous patterns relative to some of our earlier findings but this awaits further study.

April 09, 2013

Details for IronSheep 2013 - TOMORROW!! - Wednesday April 10

IronSheep Map Hack Fest 2013 (aka Escape from L.A.)is all set and ready to go!  Unfortunately given space constraints of the venue, only folks who pre-registered will be able to participate. If you can't remember if you registered email Matt.

There will be lots prizes including Makey Makey Kits, Hip Flasks with Maps on Them, Maps with Hip Flasks on them, sheep stickers, tattoos and of course the much sought after trophies.

Date: Wednesday April 10, 2013
Time: 5 pm to 9 pm
Location: LARTA (an non-profit innovation hub working with the Southern California tech community) located at 606 S. Olive Street, Suite 650, Los Angeles (a 10 minute walk from the AAG hotels)

View Larger Map

Bring: your laptop, software, friends, lovers, geographers, programmers, geo-geeks, ewes, rams and lambs
Don't bring: wolves, Chupacabra or mint sauce as we learned last year they are hazardous (or offensive) to sheep.

We will provide food, beverages, data, internet, prizes and sparkling commentary.

How to Win--suggestions from the first season of Iron Sheep

April 04, 2013

#Geo/Code at #AAG2013

With this year's Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers less than a week away, we thought it time to engage in some shameless self-promotion, letting you all know about what we'll be up to at the conference so that you'll be more inclined to come to our sessions.

This year, we've helped to organize a symposium - #Geo/Code: Geoweb, Big Data and Society - to take place within the conference. Coming out of this past summer's SheepCamp, #Geo/Code is a broad look at the latest research and discussions happening around the kinds of things we've been looking at here for the last few years. All of the sessions are organized sequentially, so there is no competition between sessions scheduled at the same time, as has been the case so often in the past.

We've listed all of the sessions of #Geo/Code here for you with links to the full program, but if you still need help getting your schedule organized, we highly suggest you take a look at this year's official conference app, which is actually quite nice.

Wednesday, April 10
Situating the Geoweb as Technoscience I  
Organized by Craig Dalton of Bloomsburg University and Matt Wilson of UK, and featuring papers by Wen Lin of Newcastle, Agnieszka Leszyznski of Queen's University, Sonya Prasertong of UK, and Till Straube of Goethe University, with discussion by our very own Matt Zook.

Situating the Geoweb as Technoscience II
Again organized by Dalton and Wilson, featuring papers by Craig, Barbara Poore of the USGS, Keith Woodward of Wisconsin-Madison and Germaine Halegoua and Raz Schwartz, of Kansas and Rutgers, respectively, and featuring discussion by Dan Cockayne of UK.

Critical Interventions into Gender & the Geoweb
Organized by our own Monica Stephens and Ryan Burns of the University of Washington, panelists include Monica, Brent Hecht of the University of Minnesota, Melissa Gilbert and Michele Masucci, both from Temple University.

Digital Divides, Digital Domination, and Digital Divisions of Labour
Organized by Monica, Mark and Alan McConchie of UBC, featuring papers by Alan, Matthew Kelley of Washington-Tacoma, Greg Donovan of CUNY, Sarah Williams of MIT and Qiyang Xu.

Seriously, you should know about this by now...

Thursday, April 11
#Geo/Code: Digital Society
Organized by Jim Thatcher of Clark University, and featuring papers by James Baginski of Ohio State, Sally Applin of the University of Kent, Slavka Antonova of the University of North Dakota, Renee Sieber of McGill and Jess Bier of Masstricht University, followed by discussion from Matt Wilson.

Crowd Tasting the IronSheep Maps  
Organized by our fearless leader, Matt Zook, this session will be an opportunity to publicly revisit the efforts of the previous night's IronSheep event and discuss the results.

On criticality in mapping: GeoDesign, GIS, and Planning 
Organized by Annette Kim of MIT, panelists include Annette, Matt, Stuart Aitken of SDSU and Kofi Boone of NCSU, Matt Wilson of Kentucky and Jeffrey Hou of the University of Washington.

DOLLY and the Questing Beast: Adventures in Twitterspace 
Organized by Matt Zook, and featuring Ate, Mark and Monica, as well as Sean Gorman of Esri discussing the latest attempts to systematize the collection and analysis of geocoded Twitter data. 

Tools and Tales of Social and Spatial Network Analysis  
Organized by Monica and Joe Eckert of the University of Washington, with presentations by Ate, Monica and Joe, as well as Petr Kucera of Charles University in Prague and Andre Mondoux of Quebec University.

Friday, April 12
Crowdsourcing Crisis in the GeoWeb: A Critical Look 
Organized by Sophia Liu and Barbara Poore, both of the USGS, with presentations by Sophia, as well as Cameran Ashraf of UCLA, Katrina Peterson of UCSD and Andres Monroy-Hernandez and Megan Finn of Microsoft Research.

Citizen Data at a Crossroads: Future Research Directions for the Production of Geographic Information and Knowledge  
Organized by Jonathan Cinnamon and Britta Ricker of Simon Fraser Papers by Jonathan and Britta, as well as Jeroen Verplanke of the University of Twente and Rob Edsall of Carthage College, with commentary by Francis Harvey of the University of Minnesota.

More data, more problems? Geography and the future of 'big data' 
Organized by Taylor and Mark. Panelists include Mike Goodchild of UCSB, Mike Batty of UCL CASA, Sean Gorman of Esri, Trevor Barnes of UBC and Rob Kitchin of NUI-Maynooth.

Whither Small Data?: The limits of "big data" and the value of "small data" studies
Organized by Jim Thatcher and Ryan Burns, with papers by Jim, Rob Kitchin, Ralph Schroeder of the OII and Taylor on behalf of the rest of the Floatingsheep crew. Discussion by Andres Monroy.