Visualising Tweets About Global Issues

I finally found a good excuse to play around with RAW (made by the amazing people from Density Design). I have tried a few times before, but it quickly showed that I had too much data. Wanting to do stuff with a lot of data in a browser is really not such a good idea, but I really wanted to use RAW.

Anyway, yesterday we at UN Global Pulse announced a partnership with social data provider DataSift. Thanks to that partnership, we have been able to do a big project on the Post-2015 agenda together with the UN Millennium Campaign. The Post-2015 agenda is basically a process where the UN, civil society, governments of the world, and so on agree on a set of goals to aim for when the Millennium Development Goals end in 2015, so we went for rather broad stokes and global coverage. Global coverage pretty much means social data, so the partnership with DataSift really came in handy!

About a year ago, we created a microsite with crude numbers and three data visualisations.

A Spinning Globe

Post-2015 - The Spinning Globe

The spinning globe showing the top-20 countries talking on Twitter about 16 different development topics as they were defined in the massive survey MY World. We chose the spinning globe, as we had to create a visualisation that would be good for an exhibition taking place at UNICEF HQ. That meant that we wanted an interactive visualisation that could potentially update and be explored while passively looking at it (in the end we did manage to get a mouse connected, though). The main takeaway (or story!) we wanted to show was that these 16 very diverse development topics are talked about all over the globe. One problem is not just a problem for a particular continent or similar. Hence, a globe giving you a tour of the world seemed appropriate. And thanks to Mike Bostock, the skeleton had already been laid out.

A Trend Graph

Post-2015 Trend Graph

We also included a trend graph showing how much the 16 topics are talked about monthly in 193 different countries. One of the first questions we get is usually “How about my country?”, so we definitely needed the ability to drill down a bit. We also added basic lists of most used words (unigrams only) when hovering over each data point, so the user can get a basic answer when asking the question, “What do people talk about when they talk about topic X?” We went for dimple on this one (mainly thanks to the fairly easy use of an interactive legend) and a simple MySQL database for word count lookups. The graph is slightly buggy, so we may go in another direction at some point if time allows.

A Map

Post-2015 Map

Finally, we also included a map of the world where you can choose between the different topics. The trend graph makes it possible to look at one country at a time, while the map makes it possible to look at one topic at a time. We used CartoDB for that one.

New: A Bipartite Graph

Now, to celebrate that the partnership with DataSift was all wrapped up, I wrote a blog post yesterday on the Global Pulse blog, called “Sifting Through, and Making Sense of, Big Social Data” where I for example wrote about creating a taxonomy consisting of 25,000 keywords. Yes, 25,0000 keywords. Not your ordinary hashtag monitoring…

It also happened to be the day where we updated the microsite with data from June, seeing the full dataset get above 200 million tweets. To be precise, we have now categorised 206,784,678 tweets from 35,474,126 Twitter users into 16 development categories. To me that meant that it was time for a new data visualisation. We haven’t really looked much at global aggregates as it would be heavily biased towards users from especially the US, UK, Canada, and Australia, but as this was a quick celebratory visualisation, and not meant for policy decisions, I thought it was time. So this is what I created for the “Sifting Through, and Making Sense of, Big Social Data” blog post:

Apr 2013
5,593,770Apr 2013Apr 2014
6,864,457Apr 2014Aug 2012
3,676,467Aug 2012Aug 2013
5,160,392Aug 2013Dec 2012
3,731,408Dec 2012Dec 2013
4,626,337Dec 2013Feb 2013
3,605,643Feb 2013Feb 2014
4,415,418Feb 2014Jan 2013
4,354,730Jan 2013Jan 2014
5,419,600Jan 2014Jul 2013
5,185,901Jul 2013Jun 2013
5,748,094Jun 2013Jun 2014
11,097,142Jun 2014Mar 2013
5,346,790Mar 2013Mar 2014
5,715,742Mar 2014May 2013
5,535,440May 2013May 2014
7,374,555May 2014Nov 2012
4,278,777Nov 2012Nov 2013
5,173,230Nov 2013Oct 2012
4,591,306Oct 2012Oct 2013
4,887,158Oct 2013Sep 2012
3,537,554Sep 2012Sep 2013
4,722,283Sep 2013A good education
14,389,779A good educationAccess to clean water and sanitation
2,207,255Access to clean water and sanitationAction taken on climate change
5,455,398Action taken on climate changeAffordable and nutritious food
2,361,483Affordable and nutritious foodAn honest and responsive government
19,280,764An honest and responsive governmentBetter healthcare
2,056,801Better healthcareBetter job opportunities
17,489,766Better job opportunitiesBetter transport and roads
4,664,333Better transport and roadsEquality between men and women
5,711,659Equality between men and womenFreedom from discrimination
14,925,479Freedom from discriminationPhone and internet access
6,110,225Phone and internet accessPolitical freedoms
8,475,533Political freedomsProtecting forests rivers and oceans
7,166,307Protecting forests rivers and oceansProtection against crime and violence
4,147,924Protection against crime and violenceReliable energy at home
4,428,701Reliable energy at homeSupport for people who can't work
1,770,787Support for people who can't work

RAW includes Density Design’s old Fineo visualisation, and I really like those. And I especially like them when used with only two axes, making it into the more traditional bipartite graph. Each individual line is rather unimportant, while the overall most dominant colours do show you what’s most important. Most importantly, though, the sizes of the nodes are what you want to look for if you’re looking for rankings of either most talked about topics, or when we found the most tweets (Twitter seems to be just growing and growing). And, well, the nodes are already ranked, so there.

RAW makes it possible to resize the nodes, and I did play around with very wide nodes to make it apparent that that’s where a lot of the information is. But the readability (basically reading the differences in height of nodes) seemed to be just about the same whether they were 15 or 150 pixels wide. So I went with the better looking 15px.

I also considered making the tooltips (when hovering over the nodes) look better, but didn’t really think it was worth it (RAW doesn’t give you that option). I also considered re-colouring the text labels or giving them a background, but again, couldn’t be bothered. It’s simply good enough as it is!

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