Social cities

Using social media to understand neighborhoods

Research has consistently shown that online tools increase social capital. In the context of neighbourhoods, Hampton and Wellman have shown that, in newly developed areas, residents effectively used mailing lists to connect with each other, circulate information, and ask for help.

The research question of whether similar findings would hold in the larger context of a city for a long period of time is still open. To tackle this research question, we have gathered the complete dataset of the most popular neighbourhood online forum in Dublin. In this dataset, we have people sharing a common purpose (blocs) who live in the same neighbourhood and interact online to ask for help, engage in local activities, and, more generally, have a better understanding of their physical community.

Our analysis highlights the particularly concentrated usage in newly established developments where a pre-existing community may be absent. Additionally, these communications provide a valuable resource to understand local issues relevant to the community.

The image below shows a heat map of the different thread topics for the different types of communities. Topics most prevalent to new developments are clustered to the left, whereas those most present in mature developments are clustered towards the right.

The topics of plumbing, services, security issues and new build issues are the most discussed topics for new developments, showing members are turning to the forum to gain information and potentially support around these issues. Services are an area of concern as they tend to be slow at coming online for new residential areas and members are seeking advice on service providers. Management companies are also actively discussed, as it is common practise for management companies to be hired to handle the administration of the new developments.

Active topics for forums representing areas are community events and residents committee. Although forums representing areas are less active, those that are active are related to community engagement and organisation. Community events, home repairs and residential communities are active topics for mature developments as they maintain their more established neighbourhood.

This approach can be reused to gain deeper insights into issues in other domains such as homelessness.


Elizabeth Daly

Related paper

"The new blocs on the block: using community forums to foster new neighbourhoods"
Elizabeth M. Daly, Dominik Dahlem, Daniele Quercia

Example of results

Heat map of different topics for different types of communities.

Social cities heat map

Application areas

Smarter water
Smarter energy
Smarter healthcare
Smarter transportation
Smarter cities