Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent
July, 20th 2011

By Naveen Lambanaveen lamba

Intelligent Transportation Leader, IBM Global Business Services

“Carmageddon” wasn’t the epic traffic jam many were predicting, but it was definitely a hot topic of conversation on Twitter over the weekend.

Indeed, the temporary closure of the I-405 highway in Los Angeles sparked thousands of tweets, which IBM evaluated using sophisticated analytics software that divided the postings into two categories – positive sentiment and negative sentiment.

The analysis, summarized in the charts below, indicates the power of social media as a marketplace of instant opinion, as well as the ability of modern technology to gauge those opinions in real time.

Carmageddon tweet graph

The above graph looks at the percentage of positive Tweets (blue line) and negative Tweets (red line) about Carmageddon from Friday to Monday morning. Negative sentiment starts out higher than positive sentiment at the start of the weekend. By Sunday positive Tweets begin an upsurge, as negative Tweets decline. By Monday morning, positive comments (like “no traffic!”) outnumber negative (like “Carmageddon stinks!”).

The Twitter data can also be segmented another way – into major categories about Carmegeddon and related topics – and then analyzed for sentiment, either positive or negative.

Sentiment analysis

Carmageddon sentiment analysis

As the chart above shows, of those commenting on the early reopening of the 405, 17 percent registered negative comments versus only 12 percent positive. Given the hype and the car culture predominant in LA, it was surprising to see there was not more pronounced negative and positive sentiment around the fact that the highway was opening several hours earlier than local officials originally stated. The large amount of neutral comments (neither positive nor negative) suggested that many people seemed to wish that Carmageddon and the congestion-free roads could stick around longer. Could it be that LA drivers aren’t as in love with their cars as is often thought?

Many tweets focused on how light traffic was during the weekend. In the subcategories referring to the lack of “gridlock,” 41 percent were positive, versus 6 percent negative. In a related category – “no traffic” – 29 percent were positive, versus 14 percent negative. In this case, officials’ worst fears didn’t come true.

We were also able to measure the “volume” of the conversation when we analyzed the number of tweets on topics related to Carmageddon without regard for sentiment analysis:

Carmageddon volume

Ultimately, insight into social media could help a city or government better serve its constituents. The ability to monitor and analyze social conversation in real-time can help them see how constituents are responding to policy decisions or how they might need to vary their outreach across different channels to get the word out about a highway closure like the one in LA this past weekend. This could also serve as early warning system for governments around special events and unexpected occurrences.

For example, public safety officials could use this technology as part of a rapid response system for flooding, earthquakes and other natural disasters; or to identify areas of public services delivery that need improvement.

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1 Comment
July 23, 2011
6:40 am

meh. I doubt your “sophisticated” software can understand irony and sarcasm. Therefor I doubt your results are trustworthy.

Posted by: Jeremiah
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