Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, foursquare – we no longer just communicate; we interact. In the process, how can the wealth of information being generated by social media help us better understand how our cities function and create smarter cities in the process?
Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter all report membership in the hundreds of millions. Google+, the social media network launched by the search engine giant early in 2011, saw 25 million people sign up in its first four weeks. Foursquare popularised geolocation in social media, and now photographs, tweets and status updates can be tagged with your location. Our appetite for social media is changing the way we communicate and offers new ways to interact with our cities.
Over a billion people worldwide log on to social networking sites. British internet users on PCs clocked up a total of 169 million hours on Facebook alone in April 2011, according to research by Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator. Mobile users of Facebook, meanwhile, spend more than five and a half hours on the site each month. Clearly, social media is not a fad. Instant communication over social networks – and the presumption of instant feedback – now underpins just about every aspect of our lives. This includes our relationships with local and city governments. The spectacular growth of social media has also increased expectations about transparency and the right to participate in the policy-making process. Used properly, social media represents new value for local authorities, especially when coupled with the right technology, such as a secure private cloud. Leading cities in the UK, US and beyond are already tapping into this hunger for public engagement, with social media playing a part in everything from town planning to combating traffic jams.