IBM Wants Cities to be More Sociable

IBM unveiled new social sentiment analysis tools, based on its sophisticated analytics technologies, targeted at helping cities better measure and understand public opinions on key issues and services, such as public transportation or education.

With a wealth of online content and public commentary on social channels such as Twitter and Facebook, city officials need new ways to measure positive, neutral and negative opinions shared by citizens regarding important city issues. IBM’s advanced analytics and natural language processing technologies – used to analyze large volumes of public social media data in order to assess and understand citizen opinions – are now available to city governments around the world via new capabilities delivered with the IBM Intelligent Operations Center (IOC) for Smarter Cities.

The IOC combines IBM software and services to integrate city operations through a single dashboard view to help cities improve efficiency. The toolset is now augmented with social media analytics capabilities that will help city officials make more informed decisions by looking at unfiltered citizen attitudes and actions, distinguishing between sincerity and sarcasm and even predicting trends as they surface online. IOC can be deployed within a city's data center as well as available through a subscription service hosted on the IBM SmartCloud.

IBM also unveiled findings from the latest IBM Social Sentiment Index on traffic, which looked at public sentiment across India’s largest cities -- Bangalore, New Delhi and Mumbai. 

“This is one example of how social media can be used to gain insight into what a certain set of people are thinking and what their opinions are,” Naveen Lamba, associate partner for smarter government, transportation and public safety at IBM Global Business Services, tells 5 Minute Briefing. “There are several applications that we have been working on on the transportation side, but of course social media analytics works equally well to several other domains.”

In the area of transportation, notes Lamba, transit agencies, in particular, have expressed interest in better understanding what their ridership is talking about and what they are happy or upset about. This gives them insight into what people are thinking without having to do formal surveys and also gives them a “heads up” about negative sentiment that is brewing in order to deal with the issue before it becomes a big problem.  In addition, social media can be used as a source of information on the performance of the transit network, Lamba explains. “You can get an understanding of how the system is performing.”

Analysis of publicly available social media in Bangalore, New Delhi and Mumbai showed that the worst congestion is primarily caused by accidents and bad weather (three out of four times) when looking at the three cities together. It also indicated some interesting variations between the cities analyzed. For example, social conversation in Mumbai about stress around traffic is about half as high as Bangalore and New Delhi; references to the impact of rush hour on congestion in New Delhi are between five and seven times more negative than in Bangalore and Mumbai. 

Combining the knowledge that population will rapidly increase in Bangalore, New Delhi and Mumbai in the coming years, with sentiment on commuters’ preferred mode of transportation, could help these cities more accurately plan for needed investments in transportation infrastructure and its potential impact. City officials could also gauge where public awareness campaigns need to be administered to shift commuters to different modes of transport in order to alleviate growing traffic congestion.

Public social media content was analyzed by IBM Cognos Consumer Insights, which assessed 168,330 online discussions from September 2011 to September 2012 across social platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, Forums and News Sources and derived 54,234 High Value Snippets through a series of advanced filtration techniques for insight analysis. The IBM Social Sentiment Index helps companies tap into consumer desires and make more informed decisions by looking at unfiltered consumer attitudes and actions, distinguishing between sincerity and sarcasm, and even predicting trends.

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