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Watch the pulse of New York City, measured in tweets

Scientists observe the daily heartbeat of different areas of New York City, through the lens of Twitter.


This video depicts the activity pattern of the NYC area for a week. The difference from the average number of tweets is shown. Activity is higher (progressively red and yellow) or lower (progressively dark and light blue) than average.

Cities have personalities and metabolisms all their own. To measure the vital signs of New York City, researchers at the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI) used Twitter. The researchers analyzed location-based tweets and visualized the city’s cyclical movement patterns, as steady as a heartbeat.

The city ”beats” as people wake up, commute to work, and return home. Early in the mornings and in the evenings, most tweets originate in outlying residential areas, while weekday tweets are concentrated in Manhattan. Weekends follow a similar pattern, but shifted by three hours later, to account for sleeping in and recreation. Saturday night is a special case, with high activity in certain areas until late at night, and Sundays see a peak in tweets from Central Park.

Photo credit: Chris Ford/Flickr

Photo credit: Chris Ford/Flickr

The method also allowed researchers to look at interesting specific places and times, such as the Meadowlands Sports Complex on fall Sundays, and airports and the harbor at morning and on Friday afternoon.

Yaneer Bar-Yam is president of NECSI and one of the co-authors of the study. He said:

Seeing the social dynamics of cities is not only interesting, but critical to our ability to plan and change cities to be more livable and sustainable.

Treating cities as complex systems on the order of the human genome or the brain offers new opportunities to explore its working. Just as magnetic resonance imaging offered a new perspective on the brain, using social tools like Twitter as a proxy for a city’s human activity may allow us to more accurately understand and design cities for their citizens.

Read more from the New England Complex Systems Institute

Eleanor Imster

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