Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
With a Twitter-based mood-measuring lightshow displayed on the London Eye, we're about to find out.
With London’s Olympic skepticism still strong, could a massive “positivity lightshow” be just what the city needs? This is what it’s getting, anyway. In a unique mix of social media and public spectacle, the city’s London Eye will now be illuminated nightly until the Games’ end with colors that supposedly reflect the mood of Olympic commentary on Twitter. Running for 30 minutes from 9pm, the wheel’s coloring will be powered by an “intuitive algorithm” that filters positive and negative tweets and allots them a color shade accordingly. Thus, if comments are mainly negative, the wheel will be made to glow purple. If the overall Twitter attitude is neutral, it will turn green, while positive comments will see it turn yellow. Given that the overall tenor of Twitter commentary on the Games has supposedly been upbeat, this show could remind Londoners of how popular their big sporting show really is and cheer them up a bit. At the very least it will make a very popular London landmark look pretty.
The lightshow could also act like a purple rag to a bull. Commissioned by energy company EDF, the project is really yet another promotional jamboree for its sponsor -- anyone who wants to take part needs to use the hashtag #Energy2012. It will thus divert commentary away from the more popular #London2012 tag. As recent experience shows, social media users are liable to sabotage any public forum that seems to be set up for promotional purposes. London mayor Boris Johnson learned this himself earlier this month, when a recent Twitter Q&A with him was deluged by a rush of extremely silly questions. Likewise Spain’s Royal Spanish Academy, an institution intended to promote Spanish, recently piloted a Twitter project to find the language’s most beautiful word that came up with the winner “republic” – an embarrassment for a state-funded body in monarchist Spain.
Scrolling through tweets using the #Energy2012 hashtag, comments are so far very mixed, ranging from “What a fantastic idea!” to “It’s all bollocks.” The general tenor of comment suggests battle lines being drawn rather than an overall pro-Olympic love-in. The project could act as a lightning rod channeling Olympic optimism, but if Britons not too keen on the Games make the London Eye’s lightshow a place to express their frustration, Central London’s night sky might easily end up having a constant purple glow.
Top image: Shutterstock/QQ7.