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TEDGlobal 2014

Dave Troy: Social maps that reveal a city's intersections — and separations

October 13, 2014

Every city has its neighborhoods, cliques and clubs, the hidden lines that join and divide people in the same town. What can we learn about cities by looking at what people share online? Starting with his own home town of Baltimore, Dave Troy has been visualizing what the tweets of city dwellers reveal about who lives there, who they talk to — and who they don’t.

Dave Troy - Technologist
The co-host of TEDxMidAtlantic, Dave Troy is a serial entrepreneur and a data-viz fan. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
When we think about mapping cities,
00:12
we tend to think about roads
and streets and buildings,
00:14
and the settlement narrative
that led to their creation,
00:17
or you might think about
the bold vision of an urban designer,
00:19
but there's other ways
to think about mapping cities
00:22
and how they got to be made.
00:25
Today, I want to show you
a new kind of map.
00:27
This is not a geographic map.
00:29
This is a map of the relationships
between people in my hometown
00:31
of Baltimore, Maryland,
00:34
and what you can see here is that
each dot represents a person,
00:35
each line represents a relationship
between those people,
00:39
and each color represents a community
within the network.
00:43
Now, I'm here on the green side,
down on the far right where the geeks are,
00:46
and TEDx also is down
on the far right. (Laughter)
00:51
Now, on the other side of the network,
00:55
you tend to have primarily
African-American and Latino folks
00:57
who are really concerned about somewhat
different things than the geeks are,
01:00
but just to give some sense,
01:04
the green part of the network
we call Smalltimore,
01:05
for those of us that inhabit it,
01:08
because it seems as though
we're living in a very small town.
01:09
We see the same people
over and over again,
01:12
but that's because
we're not really exploring
01:14
the full depth and breadth of the city.
01:17
On the other end of the network,
01:19
you have folks who are interested
in things like hip-hop music
01:21
and they even identify with living
in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area
01:24
over, say, the Baltimore city
designation proper.
01:28
But in the middle, you see that there's
01:32
something that connects
the two communities together,
01:34
and that's sports.
01:37
We have the Baltimore Orioles,
the Baltimore Ravens football team,
01:38
Michael Phelps, the Olympian.
01:41
Under Armour, you may have heard of,
is a Baltimore company,
01:42
and that community of sports
acts as the only bridge
01:45
between these two ends of the network.
01:48
Let's take a look at San Francisco.
01:50
You see something a little bit
different happening in San Francisco.
01:52
On the one hand, you do have
the media, politics and news lobe
01:55
that tends to exist
in Baltimore and other cities,
01:59
but you also have this
very predominant group
02:02
of geeks and techies that are sort of
taking over the top half of the network,
02:04
and there's even a group
that's so distinct and clear
02:09
that we can identify it
as Twitter employees,
02:11
next to the geeks, in between
the gamers and the geeks,
02:13
at the opposite end
of the hip-hop spectrum.
02:17
So you can see, though,
02:20
that the tensions that we've
heard about in San Francisco
02:21
in terms of people being
concerned about gentrification
02:24
and all the new tech companies
that are bringing new wealth
02:27
and settlement into the city are real,
02:30
and you can actually see
that documented here.
02:32
You can see the LGBT community
02:34
is not really getting along
with the geek community that well,
02:36
the arts community, the music community.
02:39
And so it leads to things like this.
02:42
["Evict Twitter"]
02:43
Somebody sent me this photo
a few weeks ago,
02:44
and it shows what is happening
on the ground in San Francisco,
02:46
and I think you can
actually try to understand that
02:49
through looking at a map like this.
02:51
Let's take a look at Rio de Janeiro.
02:53
I spent the last few weeks
gathering data about Rio,
02:55
and one of the things
that stood out to me about this city
02:57
is that everything's
really kind of mixed up.
03:00
It's a very heterogenous city in a way
that Baltimore or San Francisco is not.
03:02
You still have the lobe of people involved
03:06
with government, newspapers,
politics, columnists.
03:09
TEDxRio is down in the lower right,
right next to bloggers and writers.
03:11
But then you also have this
tremendous diversity of people
03:15
that are interested
in different kinds of music.
03:17
Even Justin Bieber fans
are represented here.
03:20
Other boy bands, country singers,
03:22
gospel music, funk and rap
and stand-up comedy,
03:25
and there's even a whole section
around drugs and jokes.
03:28
How cool is that?
03:31
And then the Flamengo football team
is also represented here.
03:32
So you have that same kind of spread
03:35
of sports and civics
and the arts and music,
03:37
but it's represented
in a very different way,
03:40
and I think that maybe fits
with our understanding of Rio
03:42
as being a very multicultural,
musically diverse city.
03:46
So we have all this data.
03:50
It's an incredibly rich set of data
that we have about cities now,
03:53
maybe even richer than any data set
that we've ever had before.
03:56
So what can we do with it?
04:00
Well, I think the first thing
that we can try to understand
04:02
is that segregation is a social construct.
04:04
It's something that we choose to do,
and we could choose not to do it,
04:07
and if you kind of think about it,
04:10
what we're doing with this data
is aiming a space telescope at a city
04:12
and looking at it as if was
a giant high school cafeteria,
04:15
and seeing how everybody arranged
themselves in a seating chart.
04:19
Well maybe it's time to shake up
the seating chart a little bit.
04:22
The other thing that we start to realize
04:26
is that race is a really
poor proxy for diversity.
04:28
We've got people represented
from all different types of races
04:31
across the entire map here --
04:34
only looking at race
04:36
doesn't really contribute to
our development of diversity.
04:38
So if we're trying to use diversity
04:41
as a way to tackle some of our
more intractable problems,
04:43
we need to start to think
about diversity in a new way.
04:46
And lastly, we have the ability to create
04:49
interventions to start to reshape
our cities in a new way,
04:53
and I believe that if
we have that capability,
04:56
we may even bear some
responsibility to do so.
04:58
So what is a city?
05:02
I think some might say that it is
05:03
a geographical area or a collection
of streets and buildings,
05:05
but I believe that a city
is the sum of the relationships
05:09
of the people that live there,
05:11
and I believe that if we can start to
document those relationships in a real way
05:13
then maybe we have a real shot
05:19
at creating those kinds of cities
that we'd like to have.
05:21
Thank you.
05:23
(Applause)
05:25

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Dave Troy - Technologist
The co-host of TEDxMidAtlantic, Dave Troy is a serial entrepreneur and a data-viz fan.

Why you should listen

Dave Troy is a serial entrepreneur and community activist in Baltimore, Maryland. He is CEO and product architect at 410 Labs, maker of the popular e-mail management tool Mailstrom.co. He has been acknowledged by the founding team at Twitter as the first developer to utilize the Twitter API, with his project “Twittervision,” which was featured in the 2008 MoMA exhibition “Design and the Elastic Mind.” His crowdsourced project Peoplemaps.org uses social network data to map cities. He is also organizer of TEDxMidAtlantic and is passionate about data, cities, and entrepreneurship.

Read his post, "The Math Behind Peoplemaps."

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