This guest post was written by Kate Bladow, Founder & Strategist at Powered Pursuits.
In Baltimore, Twitter is a popular tool for meeting new people and tracking local news, especially among the Creative Class. However, there's an assumption that a significant portion of Baltimore isn't using Twitter, including the many people who reside in low-income neighborhoods.
A quick review of the data suggested that the assumption about who is and who isn't using Twitter is wrong. To get a better look at patterns, Dave asked the Baltimore technology community to help him analyze the data. Another Baltimore entrepreneur and co-owner of Charm City Networks, Chris Whong used Dave's archives to create several maps:
- the tweets and the location where they were posted;
- the shortest and longest paths of people who tweeted from multiple locations; and
- all of the paths of people who tweeted from multiple locations.
A few other visualizations were created as well:
- a video showing how people move around Baltimore based on their tweets (Dave Troy);
- a video following a specific person's tweets around Baltimore (Shea Frederick);
- a tool that maps the path of a specific user based on his or her tweets (Shea Frederick);
- a map of tweets where the Baltimore Orioles are mentioned (Dave Troy);
- a map of the tweets from August 27 to September 6 (Dave Troy); and
- a visualization of the words that were used and how frequently (Chris Whong).
The result: people are posting to Twitter from across the city. (To see this, choose the option to show income data on Chris' map.) Apparently, people in low-income neighborhoods are using Twitter and at a rate that appears similar to that of other Baltimore neighborhoods. For Baltimore nonprofits this means that Twitter may be more effective tool for engaging with Baltimore's low-income communities than previously thought. Beyond their typical use of Twitter, an organization might try the following ideas.
- Identify people in underserved neighborhoods and build relationships with them to connect with those communities.
- Target a neighborhood where a specific problem is known to exist, watch for tweets from that neighborhood referencing the issue, and connect with that person to learn more or help solve the problem.
- Watch for opportunities to use the data to learn more about specific events or issues. For example, Dave was interested in how the Grand Prix affected neighborhoods outside of the Inner Harbor, so he mapped specific posts that referenced the Grand Prix. (Hosting the Grand Prix has been a controversial issue in Baltimore.)
Most of you probably don't live in Baltimore, so this data has limited utility for you, but Dave Troy has made his code available to others, so that they can replicate this project for their communities. You can find it on GitHub: Capture tweets for a given lat/lon bounding box and Parse tweets from baltimore.twittervision.com. Chris Whong has already put it to use for New York City.
But there's a bigger lesson to learn from this project: Many communities have people who understand technology, are invested in making their community better, and may already be working on projects that your organization doesn't likely have the resources to try. To find them, check out technology meetups, find your local Code for America Brigade, talk with local technology councils, or use Twitter. People like Dave Troy, Chris Whong, and Shea Frederick likely exist in most larger cities. You just need to find them.
(Hint: If you are in Baltimore, find them by joining the Baltimore Tech Facebook group or coming to Groundwork, an event about using data to make Baltimore better.)
Kate Bladow, Founder & Strategist at Powered Pursuits, helps nonprofits and social changemakers understand, implement, and evaluate technologies that help them meet their missions. Previously, Kate worked for Pro Bono Net, where she helped legal aid programs and courts develop LawHelp Interactive document assembly projects, and for Montana Legal Services Association, where she helped to launch MontanaLawHelp.org, a legal information website for the public, and MontanaProBono.net, a website that supports legal aid and pro bono lawyers. She is a member of the Wide Angle Youth Media Board.