2012 London Olympics: Thames Alive with Olympic Spirit

The London Eye is reportedly hooked up to Twitter for the 2012 London Olympics and changes color to match the mood of incoming Tweets.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

One of the many perks of working at the London Media Centre just off Parliament Square during the 2012 Summer Olympics is that I get to walk past Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and the Houses of Parliament on my way to and from work every day.

Just a few steps passed those famous landmarks take me out onto the bustling Westminster Bridge with its constant flow of foreign tourists snapping photos of all the above. As I walk over the River Thames, I have my choice of two Olympic-themed technological wonders on either side of the bridge.

We’ll start with The London Eye – the massive Ferris wheel rising more than 443 feet over the Thames. A short walk from Waterloo Station, it’s still the tallest Ferris in Europe.

During these Olympics fortnight, the London Eye lights once per night in a pattern reflecting the mood about the day’s competetion according to Twitter uses. When the verdict is in, yellow means The Eye is receiving happy Tweets, while purple indicates discord amongst the Olympic Twitter world.

The UK’s EDF Energy hired a team of MIT technicians to write up an algorithm that could scan the sea of Olympic Tweets and assign points based on the number and verbal intensity of positive or negative sentiment expressed. The algorithm checks the Tweets against a databank of more than 2,750 words, phrases and hashtags.

The wheel’s color intensity reflects the degree of positivity or grumpiness. A majority positive flow makes for a majority yellow London Eye. If the day rolls 90% negative, most (but not all) of the Eye turns purple.

Here’s the only problem. It’s unclear if it’s working because no one is really testing it. I tried a very unscientific test and tried to monitor the mood of the Eye during a particularly successful day for Team GB – a factor I assumed would liven up The Eye with Gold Medal joy.

The Eye is only a short walk from the London Media Centre off Parliament Square and Westminster Bridge. From the Thames River Bank, I watched the daily verdict and found a predominantly white illuminated tourist attraction. With a shrug, I headed back to the LMC wondering if they whole algorithm story wasn’t just a bit of publicity.

A more reliable attraction along the river shines from the other side of Westminster Bridge with the special show projected up against the Houses of Parliament. For the uninitiated, the two Houses of the United Kingdom’s Parliament meet in what was once The Palace of Westminster. While the elected British government clashes there, it is still considered a royal residence. The adjoining Big Ben is clearly one of London’s most prominent symbols.

Because of the Houses' iconic status in British culture, Mayor of London Boris Johnson commissioned a montage documenting British sport’s “most iconic and unforgettable moments, drawing on London's unrivaled Olympic heritage…the only city to have held the momentous event three times – and journeying through the modern Olympic era into Great British triumphs.”

That’s a fancy way of saying they put together a selection of British Olympic success so they could project them up against The Houses of Parliament. The flowing, panning montage features imagery from the 1908, 1948 and modern Games.

The show runs every night from 9:30 to midnight during the Olympics – and then again throughout the Paralympic Games. The sheer size of the projected show fills Westminster Bridge and the opposite Thames banks with international visitors squeezing every last bit of Olympic spirit out of the 2012 London Games.