The Olympics, Twitter And The London Eye

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A new experiment will use the London Eye to serve as a barometer of public sentiment about the Olympics throughout the Games. (AP)
A new experiment will use the London Eye to serve as a barometer of public sentiment about the Olympics throughout the Games. (AP)

The London Eye is a large, Ferris wheel-like attraction that carries tourists to a point where they can look over lots of the city's most familiar landmarks. It's fun on a day when the weather's good, which it wasn't the only time I climbed aboard the Eye. It was windy and gray, and a beverage in a pub on the ground would have been a better idea, but never mind that.

The Eye is in the news this week because some clever people from the United Kingdom's EDF Energy Group, "the official electricity supplier of the Games," have partnered with M.I.T. to create an ever-changing barometer of the extent to which people are either delighted or irritated by the Olympics. The tweets of anyone with anything to say about the Games will be collected and categorized as either positive or negative. Then the results will be presented in bright lights on the Eye each evening. What's being described as "the world's first social media light show" will cause three-quarters of the London Eye to light up if three-quarters of the tweets are from people enjoying the Games.

The so-called "prevailing sentiment" will also be reflected each night by means of different colored lights: Yellow will be positive, green will be neutral, and purple will represent all the people who've stood in line too long or been told their tickets are counterfeit. Which is weird, because who's going to be neutral about the Olympics? And if anybody is neutral, how is that person going to be motivated to tweet?

People tweet about what they really like or what they don't like at all, right? Unless they're the sort of people who tweet things like, "I've just looked at my watch. It's nearly noon," or "Lunch is my favorite meal. Mmmmm. LOL." Of course, if those  tweets included the brand name of the official timepiece of the London Olympics or mentioned the products of the specific fast food chain and soft drink company promoting the Games, I guess they'd get collected, tabulated and presented as either yellow, green or purple…which are just three of the colors tweeters might turn if they ride the London Eye after supersizing on that stuff.

Of course, I may be the wrong guy to assess the value of turning the London Eye into a vast, glowing tweet-meter. I tweet infrequently. Doug Tribou does it early and often for the program. I don't text much, either. That's partly because I have the kind of cell phone that flips open. I'd call it a dumb phone, except that it enables me to call people and rings when they call me, which is all I require of it.

"Thanks for that," it would perhaps tweet, if it could.

But when I am in London to watch gymnastics and basketball, I'm sure I'll see the glowing Eye, because it can be seen for miles around. And because I like to  think of myself as cheerful and positive, I'll hope for the dominance of yellow over purple, and no green at all, because what sort of story is there in a grand, global exhibition of athletic competition about which people feel neutral?

This segment aired on July 28, 2012.

Bill Littlefield Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.



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