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Twitter in the city

A couple weeks ago I wrote a story about some work related to the Boston Marathon bombings that network scientists in David Lazer’s lab are working on. They’re asking Android phone users to donate a little time as well as the data from the calls and texts they made in the hours following the attacks. Researchers do have access to the anonymized call logs from cellular phone use, but without a little context about who those calls were made between and why, those data don’t say much. So they’re asking people to tell them in a brief survey in an app available at the Google Play store.

The goal is to get a better sense of how people use their social networks during emergencies. Another way the team is looking at this question is through Twitter. Yu-Ru Lin, an assistant research professor on the team, created a great interactive Google map that shows all of the Tweets using fear-related words that came out of Boston on April 15, 2013. While people were apparently a little on edge all day — 26.2 miles will do that to you — there’s a very obvious spike at 2:49pm, when the first bomb went off. In the visualization below, you see the whole city light up with red dots, representing those fearful Tweets:

Here’s a static representation of the tweets, showing that clear spike right when the bombs go off:

Screen Shot 2013-05-06 at 10.32.49 AM

If you’re interested in participating in Lazer’s Android project, you can learn more about the project on his website, VolunteerScience, which is a new platform his team developed to investigate these kinds of questions more readily. Also, it’s worth noting that the team will donate $3 to One Fund Boston for every person that participates.