Testing tweets at the Canada Games

Dal prof, students turn to Twitter to find out what people like about the Canada Games

Dal prof, Antoliy Gruzd, stands with a graph showing popular tweet topics he's collected for the 2011 Canada Games. (Photo: Samantha Durnford)

Dal prof, Antoliy Gruzd, stands with a graph showing popular tweet topics he's collected for the 2011 Canada Games. (Photo: Samantha Durnford)

A Dalhousie University professor and his students are tracking tweets to see if Haligonians are happy during this month's Canada Games.

Anatoliy Gruzd, assistant professor in the School of Information Management, and five students will be studying every single Twitter tweet about the Games, running from Feb. 11 to Feb. 27.

They're studying the sentiment of the tweets to decide if big events, such as the Games, create happiness.

"It gives us a better understanding of how people communicate and what things are important to people," said Sreejata Chatterjee, one of the students working on the project. "We hope to learn something new."

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This graph shows the Twitter accounts with the most re-tweeted tweets on the 2011 Canada Games. (Graph: Courtesy Antoliy Gruzd)

Gruzd already did an experiment like this during the 2010 Winter Olympics. He collected 46,097 random tweets with a computer program that collected data and then put the tweets into graphs.

The outcome of his Olympic Twitter study was that happy tweets were three times more likely to get re-tweeted than negative tweets.

They use a measuring program called Sentistrength. The program reads tweets and rates them on a scale of negative five to positive five. For example, tweets in the negative range show "sad" tweets, like, "The Canada Games are going to suck." Positive tweets are ones such as, "The opening ceremony was awesome this year!"

Gruzd said, "people tend to want to share good news rather than bad news. On the internet, in a public forum, you don't want to be the messenger of bad news."

However, Gruzd said that the program is not without flaws. He said Sentistrength has issues detecting sarcasm. Therefore, students must go over the tweets at the end of each day to pick up sentiments the program might have missed.

So far, Gruzd and his team have collected about 500 tweets containing the Canada Games' official Twitter hashtag, #2011wintergames. He said the lab will collect the tweets, store them, then put all of the tweets into graphs.

His students will be analyzing the tweets every day and writing a daily report on their blog, socialmedialab.ca, for the two-week duration of the Games. Gruzd said he has no idea how many hours a day they'll be putting in.

"Social media never sleeps," he said.

Visual sentiment

Gruzd turns on a computer screen with colorful graphs. One graph shows the popular topics of the tweets, such as volunteers, the transportation hub and Facebook references. Another graph shows how many times other provinces have mentioned the Games, showing that Nova Scotia is by far the most interested, followed by Ontario and Nunavut.

Lastly, there's a graph that shows the most influential Twitter accounts, judged by the number of times their tweets are re-tweeted. As of Wednesday, @NScometolife was the most re-tweeted Twitter account (see graph 1).

Chatterjee said that research regarding Twitter sentiment is important because it can identify social unrest.

"If a country is tweeting negative things, we can look at that and say, ‘This country needs help.'"

After this study, Gruzd said they will begin asking people why they prefer happy messages versus unhappy messages and why they are more likely to share happy thoughts.

Tweeting for live coverage

Social media is going to be a large part of the Canada Games. Christina Carew, social media leader for the Games, said that they're using Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr to provide constant live coverage of the games.

Carew said she met with Gruzd about his study and is exited about the use of Twitter during the Games.

"It's a great way for people from all over to see the Games and participate," she said.

Jennifer Casey, who tweets local sporting events, said that during sporting events, most people are happy.

"I'd be surprised to see a lot of unhappy people, if any at all, during the games," she said.

Henry Whitfield live-tweets Halifax Moosehead games and said he'll be tweeting during the Canada Games.

"I really think Twitter is important for sports," he said. "It allows fans of the games or even casual observers to keep up with events and allows people to interact with the actual athletes."

He said in terms of happiness during the Games, he thinks they will definitely see a trend.

"I find Haligonians love to have people visiting, and love to show off their city."

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