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!

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