Paper on geovisual analytics wins “Test of Time” award

Pennsylvania State University

A 2011 paper authored by Penn State researchers outlining a geovisual analytics approach to support geographically grounded situational awareness of crisis events using social media was selected to receive the 2021 IEEE Symposium on Visual Analytics Science and Technology Test of Time award.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Test of Time Award is an accolade given to recognize articles published at previous conferences whose contents are still vibrant and useful today and have had a major impact and influence within and beyond the visualization community. The award was presented at the IEEE VIS: Visualization and Visual Analytics 2021 virtual conference held Oct. 25 to 29, in New Orleans.

The research for this paper, SensePlace2: GeoTwitter analytics support for situational awareness, was led by Alan MacEachren, professor emeritus of geography and information science and technology, who retired this past June. Other co-authors include Anuj Jaiswal, Anthony Robinson, Scott Pezanowski, Alexander Savelyev, Prasenjit Mitra, Xiao Zhang and Justine Blanford.

According to the selection committee, the paper has more than 400 citations and is still regularly cited today as an early example of visual analytics for aggregated social media data. Published when Twitter was still ramping up, the paper described using tweets and their location data for situation awareness during emergencies. It includes a survey of emergency practitioners and a useful discussion of situation awareness. This work led to important discussions on the ethics of location-based data in crisis situations.

“We were able to accomplish what we did due to having a team that included researchers focused on geovizuation, visual analytics, technology development, user-centered design, and large-scale data processing and management,” said Anthony Robinson, associate professor of geography in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

“Because of our combined strengths, we were in a really good position to capture and utilize the rapidly growing data generated by Twitter – a relatively new platform at the time. For the SensePlace2 paper, we were among the first to leverage geo-located tweets and combine that with geoparsing text, which meant we were applying geographic information retrieval methods to extract and geolocate place mentions in tweets. The research was also grounded in real-world use by including an evaluation of practitioners in the crisis management community, and we leveraged what we learned from that in the system design.”

The research was a collaborative effort and included researchers from both the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences and College of Information Sciences and Technology.

“This work showed that social media data can be used to find useful information amidst all the junk, fake data, chitchat and noise, and introduced it as a means of a real-time sensor of what is happening in the world since it is available more readily, without any intervention and in real-time,” said Prasenjit Mitra, professor of information sciences and technology. “The project team was a truly collaborative group and included folks who worked on very different types of problems. Cartographic design, natural language processing, web mapping technology, user-centered design – any one of those domains alone wouldn’t have cut it.”

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is the world’s largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology. IEEE has more than 400,000 members in more than 160 countries including engineers, scientists and allied professionals whose technical interests are rooted in electrical and computer sciences, engineering and related disciplines.

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