Tweet Patrol: Deploying Social Networks to Solve Public Safety Issues

Article excerpt

A group of researchers in the United Kingdom are using the power of social networks and location broadcasting to make cities safer. The program, Voice Your View, allows pedestrians to record their opinions about their surroundings into a database via their mobile phones or strategically situated kiosks. The data is then shared with both city planners and the public via Web sites and at the public spaces themselves.

Voice Your View bears a slight resemblance to the popular location-based marketing service Foursquare, which rewards users with points and coupons for "checking in" with their phones at various venues and commercial establishments around the city. But the Voice Your View program solicits real-time data from residents and visitors about areas that need improvement.

"A key focus area of the project is people's perceptions about crime," says chief investigator Jon Whittle of Lancaster University. He reports that Voice Your View has analysis and artificial intelligence components not available in other commercial services like Twitter and Foursquare. The program surpasses the capabilities of many other social networks. It analyzes the body of data collected at any given point and organizes comments by theme, sentiment, and how easily the problem being reported can be solved. Voice Your View actually connects users to one another and to planners.

"We match up users based on what they are talking about, and we are experimenting with matching users with opposing views so as to break down barriers and start a conversation," says Whittle.

The research team has conducted public trials in Lancaster, England, with 600 users, and a semi-public trial in the town of Derry. They also have an upcoming trial in Coventry.

Location-based Internet services like this will change city life in the next few decades in a number of ways, according to researchers exploring geographic information system (GIS) solutions. Key barriers remain, such as building out fiber-optic infrastructure to allow for greater system capability, getting citizens who are vulnerable but not technically inclined--like the elderly--to use the systems, and getting policy makers to give importance to the data. …