Connecting Twitter to a Light Display
EDF energy, working in partnership with the Olympic veteran athlete Daley Thompson, an English athlete who has twice won Olympic gold medals, he had a plan to celebrate the Olympics in lights, now it is taking place in his home country.
Working with EDF energy's money, the partnership plans to link the London Eye, that gargantuan big wheel ride in the middle of London, to the live aggregate feed coming out of Twitter. Any comments about the Olympics will be picked up, and a real-time dynamic light show across the entire wheel will be affected by the volume of positive comments versus the volume of negative comments. For example, if 68% of the comments scanned are positive, only 68% of the lights will shine. If all of the comments are negative, the entire wheel will go dark.
EDF energy stated that their experts on "sentiment analysis" developed an intuitive algorithm for the effect, which is curious, as is their statement that it is the world's first social media-driven light show.
The reason why both comments are strange, is because this is basically a larger-scale version of another social media-driven light show that took place three years back, in 2009. It even took place in the same country.
The original light show was created as a Christmas event by Andy Stanford-Clark, a worker at IBM Hursley, near Winchester, UK. What started out as a few streams of Christmas lights wired up to a computer, soon took over the ceilings of many of the office and display spaces.
In an event that made the printed press at the time, the lights were all hooked up to the internet, and were controlled by random people on Twitter. Send a tweet to ibmlights with a colour code, or a sequence code, and the lights in Hursley instantly responded, following their instructions until another code was entered, by another random social-media user.
Over time they grew more and more complex, and became a recurring theme at Hursley.
The second point of EDF's that is questionable, is this "sentiment analysis" algorithm they have developed. A no-doubt complex and intricate algorithm, that is free and comes with Twitter. It's a part of the Twitter API and was in place before this London Eye project was even conceptualised.
Still, ignoring these glaring omissions, it is an ambitious project, not least because it is right out in the open in the middle of a national capital, at a time of great media attention due to the presence of an international, major sporting event.
It's not as if great numbers of Internet trolls are going to take advantage of this visible feature to manipulate the results up or down in real-time, is it? Oh. Oh dear. That could be a problem.
Only time will tell how this light show will pan out. As a great visual indicator of our increasingly augmented, physical reality, or as a debacle visible long after the lights themselves have gone out for good.