Reflections on emoto



This is a whole new way to experience and have a bird’s eye perspective on big events.

emoto captured and visualised the emotional intensity around the London 2012 Olympic Games, and provided a unique ‘peoples’ perspective on events as they happened.

Based on analysis of approx. 12.5 million Twitter messages, emoto presented both the big picture, the world from above, as well as the intimate and personal details enabling the viewer to zoom right in to specific detail. The dynamic nature of evolving news stories within the Olympic Games could be followed online via emoto, providing greater insight in real-time and an alternative perspective to that found in standard (eg TV) sport media coverage, or in the live experience for fans.

emoto was a data art project which set out to generate beauty and meaning out of the everyday interactions of millions of people.

The development and design of the online emoto visualization took a significant amount of time, developing and testing systems, building infrastructure as well as all of the front-end design and interface development of emoto. The team strove to ensure the creation of a real-time visualization that was original and insightful in its perspective; that it was accurate, dynamic and also beautiful, in making a vast amount of data immediately understandable to viewers in a moment through a couple of clicks of a mouse.

We had to jump many hurdles, from London 2012 branding restrictions to a change in the Terms of Service of Twitter. New limits on use of Twitter data meant entirely new infrastructure had to be built just two weeks prior to the London 2012 Opening Ceremony.

A special quality of emoto is that the data is archived in its entirety. This means that there is the possibility for continued research and investigation, using the information after the Games have concluded.

The emoto data sculpture video documentation can be seen via the Studio NAND vimeo channel.

The Big Picture in the data sculpture


While the paralympics are in full effect — and as well captured on the emoto platform as the Olympics — the team is busy putting the finishing touches on the last piece of the emoto project: The data sculpture installation in Preston. We will show 17  CNC-milled plates —one for each day of the games— and together with overlay projections, focusing on individual story arcs, these will form an interactive landscape representing all the tweets we collected during the Games. Alongside, we will have a huge wall-mounted, annotated timeline of the Games in tweets. We can’t post any images of the exhibits yet, but we are all very excited to see these final pieces come together in a really unique data art piece and experience.

In order to identify  the key stories of the games and understand the dramaturgy of the event as a whole, we produced a few more information graphics, focusing on key stories of the Games.

The above heatmap image (interactive version) nicely shows the different textures of individual topics over time: The continuous attention (across the whole emotional spectrum) towards Team GB, the ongoing rivalry of Phelps and Lochte, the punctual, but very strong attention towards Tom Daley and Oscar Pistorius, the “zing-zing” pattern for popular boyband One Direction1, caused by massive retweeting of individual tweets by fans of the band, the rising attention towards Usain Bolt, one of the big winners of the games, as well as the negative comments towards smaller scandals and disqualifications. Unfortunately, the chart also reveals two major server outages on July 28 and Aug 2, causing us to lose the tweets of a good portion of each of the respective nights in tweets. We could have estimated the respective numbers but decided to stay truthful to which data we actually collected and live with the gaps. Hooray for digital media!

And, how could we NOT make a big timeline of the games, with the average sentiment development and selected tweets over time:

-> full version (8993 x 847 px)

This one is the basis for a BIG wall mounted graph to be seen at Preston as part of WE PLAY expo Sep 7–9, along with the milled data art sculpture — make sure to come by, if you have the chance! (The full team will be around Friday and Saturday, so this is also a chance to meet us in person.)

1 One Direction are a British boy band formed in 2010, they came to fame after appearing and coming third on the X Factor.  They are Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson and took part in the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games which may account for some of their popularity on emoto.

The emotional journey of Team GB


The emotional journey of Team GB has been one of the most compelling stories at London 2012 and it has been fascinating to observe the host nation identifying with and getting wrapped up in the Games.

As we recently added an archive mode to the emoto site, we can now investigate the development of individual topics over time. See, for instance, the sentiment history for Team GB (shot above), how the levels of interest changed each day, and the mix of positive and negative emotions. The size indicates the level of attention on twitter, and the origami shapes indicate positive and negative emotion, shades of orange and red are positive and shades of blue are negative. See the positive sentiment towards Team GB especially on Day 8 – Super Saturday. As we story also the most important tweets, you can even go back in time to that day and see the key tweets on Day 8 for Team GB.

Below you can see the emotional response to topics running from left to right as the days unfold, from Team GB as a whole to individual athletes. (click the image for a full-size version)

We see an outpouring of emotion online, represented as a dark orange round, visualising the audience response to the their triumph.

With an immediacy, we witness the craze around Team GB as it was felt and shared by the audience and sports fans. This was made up of many individual dramas around the athletes.

We see the drama unfold around the medals table. From the first medal won, to anxiety about the lack of Golds in the early days. Relief was palpable when Bradley Wiggins and then Helen Glover and Heather Stanning won the first Team GB Golds on Day 5. The anxiety turned to euphoria as the records tumbled on Super Saturday with six Gold medals for Team GB  (BBC).

The big stories are all there, and so are some surprises. What is striking is we see Andy Murray hitting some serious highs but a low at the beginning, this negative emotion may reflect feelings towards Murray, could he pull it off this time after losing Wimbledon? This changed completely as the excitement grew and he got the Gold. Sentiment around Chris Hoy were almost entirely positive while around Victoria Pendleton there were contrasting emotions. She was involved in a drama during her race with Anna Mears in the cycling sprint. Pendleton won the race by 1/1000 sec but referees decided she had crossed the red line and Mears won the race.

Response to Bradley Wiggins was on the whole high – here are tweets displayed ‘live’ on emoto while the events were unfolding along with an origami representation of the attention and emotional tone.

The image above was captured on emoto after Bradley Wiggings had won the gold medal in the men’s Individual Time Trial Road Cycling. This emotionally intensive moment can clearly be observed on the Team GB emoto timeline.

As the medals kept coming for Team GB, the human stories continued to grip the nation. The ‘triathlon brothers’ had viewers on the edge of their seats. Alistair Brownlee powered across the finish line in the men’s Triathlon to win Great Britain’s 19th gold medal. His brother Jonathan Brownlee, despite a 15 second penalty, came through to get Bronze.

emoto captured moment the people of Britain woke up to a strange new presence in their urban landscape – a ‘Golden Postbox’. As news from BBC Sport hit the airwaves (“Great Britain equals the total number of golds they won at the 2008 Beijing Olympics – 19”)  traditional red postboxes throughout the country were painted gold in honour of the Olympic Champions. On emoto, we see the surprise and delight, and how the host nation is getting into the Olympic spirit in unexpected ways.

Comparing the UK to the rest of the world, it is interesting that overall the major trends were similar in audience response, except that the emotions were somewhat more intense in the UK.

People followed largely the same emotional journey, but that journey was more intense for the UK.   Once we look in more detail all sorts of unexpected discoveries drop out – August 1 and 3 were big emotional days for the UK and the rest of the world. This is surprising for the UK, as 2 and 4 were the big breakthrough days for the UK medal haul.  Conversely there was a marked divergence on 29 July, with UK postive but rest of the world less so.  Both had a dip on 2 August, and on 4 August, the big day of Super Saturday, in the UK the emotion levelled off, and in the rest of the world it dipped, which is something of a surprise.

So now the race is on for the remaining medals. Let emoto be your guide to unexpected late entries and triumphs of the games.  emoto will continue to track the Olympic journey, bringing updates in real time of surprising trends and unexpected discoveries.


Key Stories in Week 1


emoto paints a unique picture on the unfolding events at London 2012. This image shows the ebb and flow of the audience’s emotional response around some hot topics.

Old and new media have both been in the spotlight, with a series of controversies erupting during the first week, much of this about Twitter and NBC.

We are currently digging through the heaps of data we are collecting (over 5 million tweets already), to develop the stories for our physical exhibit. See a small excerpt in the chart above – we call these “sentigraphs”. Each row plots the development of one topic, with stroke color (and vertical position) highlighting positive and negative sentiment, while the stroke width indicates the number of tweets at a given point in time. So, the thick blobs you see are actually outbursts of tweet activity, and finer lines indicators of a more quiet signal.

Looking at the chart, we can see how NBC were flamed for their delayed coverage of the opening ceremony and ignorance on Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, and the negative response peaked when Daniel Tosh was retweeted. On emoto we sometimes see a negative score for, say, BBC when they cover a negative story. Here we see the opposite, with positive emotion for NBC in messages about TEAM USA winning gold, in a reverse of ‘don’t shoot the messenger’.

Tom Daley is an interesting topic. He was trending on emoto, but not just because of his performance in the diving, or the big fan base for him. The positive support was strong, but then was distorted by trolling, an abusive tweet from a 17 year old, who was later arrested. On emoto we saw people start to support him against the abuse, and the positive emotion peak following messages of support.

Michael Phelps and Bradley Wiggins unsurprisingly generated some of the most positive responses. We saw the drama unfold in the contest between Phelps and Lochte, and then tweets of support from Lochte and Obama as the records tumbled.

Relief was palpable in the UK when the gold medals finally arrived, and Bradley Wiggins was one of the heros, winning Gold two weeks after winning the Tour de France, with immediate calls for a Knighthood! (Only in GB…)

Perhaps the biggest controversy of all surrounded the badminton, after 8 badminton players were charged for match fixing and disqualified.

Tomorrow we will be watching Super Saturday on emoto.

Our experience of the opening weekend


We officially launched emoto last Friday, and after an exciting few days of last minute bug fixes, watching sport, and finally celebrating emoto coming into life, we would like to share our findings and observations from the opening London 2012 weekend. Visualising the live online response to such a big event has never been done in this form before, so we are excited to see how this can change our perception and experience of sporting events.

From the get-go, we set out to show high-level statistics, but also the many individual voices that make up the big patterns – combining micro and macro views on the audience response. So many interesting personal stories can be discovered in the individual tweets; but, in order to make sense of the millions and millions of messages, you also need some statistics and high level maps to see the big patterns.

Here is a view of emoto during the 400m individual medley finale with Lochte beating Phelps on Saturday. Emoto allows you to see and experience the full mix of positive and negative emotion around one topic, but also the thoughts and comments of other audience members in real-time. For those not familiar with emoto yet, the “origami” sculpture on the left indicates the current mix of emotions for the topic “Swimming” (or rather, our approximation, based on text analysis of a sample of English tweets). Each triangle in the figure stands for a certain emotion type and intensity, and their scales help you understand the relative distributions:


The opening ceremony

The night of the opening ceremony was our first big test “in the wild”, and it was crazy for us to see in real-time how the global audience was responding, what was generating the most attention, whether that was positive or negative, and also read people’s own words as individual messages flew by.

We also recorded all the data we collected, so here are some post-hoc insights based on an analysis of over 700’000 tweets from the day of the Opening Ceremony.

(Keep in mind we work only with a sample of tweets from the Twitter Streaming API in English language, containing a clear, explicit reference to the Olympic Games, from the day (and following night) of the opening ceremony. Also, as always, we are only using tweets with a detectable sentiment, ruling out more than two third of candidates.)

As expected – people were tweeting most as the ceremony began, but interestingly, the peak in emotion came at the end when the cauldron was lit.

Overall, great positive response to the Queen, Danny Boyle, and the ceremony as a whole. Surprisingly not a major topic of online chatter (we had very few tweets referring to the topic), but close to our heart: the lesbian kiss during the ceremony! We also noticed how NBC attracted an overwhelmingly negative response, due to their decision to delay the screening. So, we decided to dig a bit deeper into the games data, and also investigate differences in how the ceremony was perceived locally.

Local differences

On the night of the opening ceremony the picture in the UK was widely positive. Despite some variation and a few negative voices in some areas, the country overall was clearly excited and enthusiastic about the ceremony.

In the US the response seemed more mixed, especially in the mid-west of the States, and also unexpectedly negative responses from e.g. Boston. We found this interesting and looked a bit deeper. Was this an artefact of the way we mapped our data, or an actual difference? Let’s look at the numbers:

First of all, we can clearly see a lag in the US responses, caused by the delayed screening. But also, the sentiment peak from the UK seems to be absent from the US curve.

Looking at the averages, we can clearly see that the US and UK appear comparably positive when it comes to the Games overall, but that the US is much less enthusiastic in tweets that explicitly refer to the Opening Ceremony.

What could be the reasons? Time differences, being upset about the delayed screening, or simply a lack of appreciation for the quirky, and quite UK-centric ceremony? Or does this simply highlight the inherent bias of the home nation towards ‘their’ Games?

The Irish triangle

We want to close this first round of observations with one thing that had us baffled for a while.

Look at the image – why does ireland have only one type of sentiment? Are the Irish all “quite positive”, and nothing else?

The explanation lies in the power of teen stars on the web: Why was there only one single dominant emotion for Ireland that day? Because the response captured on Twitter was dominated by one message retweed over 25,000 times, by Niall Horan, member of the boyband “One direction”

Currently, we have the most fun not just crunching the numbers, but also learning about all these little stories and anecdotes around the games. Stay tuned for more observations and social media mysteries over the next few days. Also, do let us know how the site works for you, and what you have discovered so far!

How we visualise the emotional response to London 2012


The emoto project captures and visualises the excitement around the Olympic Games in London 2012. emoto moves from real-time (web-based visualisation and mobile app, launching 26 July) to echo (sensory installation, during the Paralympics) to archive (data sculpture, at the Cultural Olympiad closing event).

Real-time data visualisation Our real-time data visualisation shows both the big picture, the world from above, and the intimate and personal. In topics view, we see the big picture, which event, athlete or topic is generating the most attention in the moment, and the mix of positive and negative emotions for each. The anecdotal and ephemeral is seen in the message stream view. An overview on each day shows an even bigger picture, the trends and patterns. This is a whole new way to experience and make sense of the pulse of the Games.

Data Sculpture

The data art sculpture at WE PLAY Expois a cumulative record of the collective response to the Olympics, with projected overlays conveying individual stories. In addition, the emoto team will blog about interesting findings in the digital visualisations – for example where a cluster of comments can be attributed to a particular event or sports person – providing a more in-depth analysis of these historic sporting events which are being experienced and shared by online audiences.

emoto launches on 26 July online, the day before the Olympic Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games, and provides a unique real-time manifestation of the worldwide mood in response to London 2012.

Created by artists Moritz Stefaner, Drew Hemment and Studio NAND, emoto is a FutureEverything project with MIT Senseable City Lab for the London 2012 Festival and Cultural Olympiad in the Northwest.