The proliferation of social media has led to the emergence of a new type of geospatial information that defies the conventions of authoritative or volunteered geographic information, yet can be harvested to reveal unique and dynamic information about people and their activities. In this paper we address the identification and mapping of global virtual communities formed around issues of specific national interest. We refer to these connected virtual communities formed around issues related to a specific state as the polycentric virtual equivalent of that state. Identifying, mapping, and analyzing these virtual communities is a novel challenge for our community, and this is the subject we pursue in this paper. We present these communities relative to established conventions of statehood, address the harvesting of relevant geographical information from social media feeds, and discuss the challenge of visualizing such information. In order to do so we use the current geopolitical situation in Syria as a demonstrative example.
The user interface of our system prototype to harvest, map, and analyze streaming Twitter feeds.
A network representation of the polycentric virtual Syria as it is captured using Twitter feeds for the period July 10-17, 2012 using a population-normalized participation indices. The size of the nodes indicates level of participation in the corresponding model.
Update 10th of May, 2013: Our paper is now out and made the front cover of Cartography and Geographic Information Science.
Full reference: Stefanidis, A., Cotnoir, A., Croitoru, A., Crooks, A.T., Radzikowski, J. and Rice, M. (2013), Demarcating New Boundaries: Mapping Virtual Polycentric Communities through Social Media Content, Cartography and Geographic Information Science, 40(2): 116-129. (pdf)