Tool review: Trendsmap

Name: Trendsmap
Description: Displays geotagged tweets in their geographic context.
Purpose-built for journalism: No.
Journalism uses: Trend monitoring, source building, source material for stories.
Pros: Lets users see the forest for the trees, places tweets in their geographies, multiple filters
Cons: Map can get too cluttered, only searches one platform

When the Twitter feed goes bonkers — whether it’s Zimmerman, Sharknado or Election Night — it’s helpful to have tools that can bring some order to the chaos of the feed and, if you’re in the media, get you out of the trees and able to see the forest.

There are myriad tools out there, but this field — Twitter analytics — is one where it seems to be the more expansive the product, the less it delivers. Tightly focused concepts that mine either the Twitter API or the Twitter Firehose work in this area and often, the more vertical they are, the better.

Trendsmap is like that. The tagline is “Real-time local Twitter trends,” and the functionality is simple: We’re going to mine the Firehose to show you the geotagged Tweets from an area, superimpose them on a map and allow you to click on the evidence — the raw tweet — to see what people are saying.

They offer a decent range of products, all centered around the graphic display of geotagged tweets.

The Zimmerman verdict presents a nice case study.

Geotagged tweets in Florida 1 hour after the Zimmerman verdict announced

Geotagged tweets in Florida 1 hour after the Zimmerman verdict announced

The map hits all the things we’d want to know to see the forest for the trees: both proportionate and layered results to easily show popularity of terms, differentiation between users, hashtags and words and the ability to click in to see the evidence.

Zooming in is easy — and makes the product much more readable and understandable. I zoomed in to Columbia, Mo., at about the same time, just to see what the people around me were Tweeting.

Zoom -in of Columbia, Mo., area 1 hour after Zimmerman verdict announced

 The zoom resolves the biggest problem with Trendsmap: The amount of data that’s displayed can be overwhelming and even though there are filters for hashtag/word/user name, the big picture can be hard to discern.

The first pass at it as a journalism tool says that it’s really good for doing research, for tracking tweets and for getting that one sentence in the story that speaks to the broader social media perspective in a story (“One hour after the verdict was announced, 70 percent of the tweets in Columbia, Mo., were about the trial.”).

And I do see this as a way to measure and report on reaction for that ‘What they’re saying on social media’ sidebar, as well as to find people sources tweeting about a specific topic in a specific area.  Geofeedia does something similar, but it allows searches across Flicker, Instagram, Picasa and Twitter, though it doesn’t show term, user or hashtag frequency.

There may be some other uses cases as a reporting tool outside of fine-detail reporting, but none are that obvious to me yet.  Please weigh in.

It seems like it could be more of a community-building display than anything else.  Here’s a live-action example of just that, a custom-build Trendsmap did for the Rogers Communications Inc., site Sportsnet.ca . I can see a publication embedding a map widget on its web page for curious readers and as a way to build buzz and camaraderie. Trendsmap did a custom-build for the Australian Broadcast Co., during the last federal election. The widget showed trends in political tweets over the course of the election cycle. It’s interesting, but it would seem to require some analysis of beyond the sheer display.