SurveillanceSearching social media sources by geography

Published 16 November 2012

Geofeedia, has created a group of algorithms that can search multiple social media sources by geography in real time; the postings, pictures, and tweets that show up in the results of a search are geolocation-enabled, are free, and results can be streamed on a mobile device, computer, or tablet. Businesses may have to pay a fee for more intensive searches

Geofeedia has created a group of algorithms that can search multiple social media sources by geography in real time.

“You just type in a place name, address and zip code (to find a Tweet, video or image),” CEO Phil Harris told the Chicago Sun Times.

Harris started and financed the company with chief operating officer Mike Mulroy and chief technology officer Scott Mitchell.

The postings, pictures, and tweets that show up in the results of a search are geolocation-enabled, are free, and results can be streamed on a mobile device, computer, or tablet. Businesses may have to pay a fee for more intensive searches.

The program will have settings that can be filtered and changed however the customer sees fit. Users can also set the date and time as well as a remote location by drawing a circle on a map.

Harris wants people to be aware that this kind of technology can produce information people may not want to be released and that they need to be aware when they broadcast their location and tweets. Harris feels it is up to parents to educate their children when it is appropriate to use social media and how to use tact when they do use social media sites.

The Sun-Times notes that Eric Frost, a Homeland Security Professor at San Diego State University, said the university’s visualization center used Geofeedia to show DHS how it could pinpoint photos, tweets, and life-saving efforts after the 20 July shooting at a Colorado theatre during a Batman movie.

“The people at the theater were taking photos and tweeting out critical insights,” Frost told the Sun-Times. “You could immediately see it was a real shooting and that people were trying to save lives. Geofeedia helped organize chaos, which is what the Department of Homeland Security tries to do with the resources it has.”

“It’s like a browser for people to look at open-source data to help with disasters, but also ways of helping real people in need in near real time,” Frost said.

Local law enforcement agencies could use Geofeedia to see whether human trafficking is taking place by looking at collages of young women in photos that a Web site may be posting.

In the future, the program could be used for retail chains to track customer feedback and conversations about their competitors. It could also change how companies market to consumers as retailers want to get people to their stores instead of comparing prices and searching sites such as Amazon to buy products.

“Businesses will be able to filter ‘big data’ — the exploding amounts of data and social media — to figure out what’s important,” Harris told the Times.

Geofeedia was also used to catch a Twitter user who was sending out false information after Hurricane Sandy. The culprit sent out a tweet that the Stock Exchange had flooded, among other false information.

Social media was paramount during the hurricane as mayors, law enforcement, firefighters, and elected officials used Twitter and Facebook not only to stay in touch, but to coordinate rescue efforts, storm preparation videos, and information on shelters and where to apply for disaster relief.

Harvard professor Clayton Christensen calls it “disruptive innovation,” or new technologies that change an entire market and eventually outperform established companies.

Geofeedia’s cofounders moved its sales, marketing, accounting, and customer support operations in July to the Technology Innovation Center in Evanston, Illinois from Naples, Florida in an effort to be a part of the technology boom in the area.

“We opened in Chicago because of the great things happening in the tech community here,” Harris told the Sun-Times, referring to the flurry of startups and their accelerators, incubators, and co-working space supporters. “People in Chicago work hard, and there is a high quality of life, yet housing is relatively affordable. People enjoy a higher standard of living than in other urban areas, and that leads to a better, happier workforce.”

The co-founders plan on growing Geofeedia in the future along with the number of social media sites growing every day.

“We have big aspirations,” Harris told the Times. “This is new, cutting-edge technology. We’ve invested several years of our lives building it. And a rich set of data is still emerging. Who knows what the next Instagram will be?”

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