MIT’s Twitter-backed research highlights Twitter use by small Spanish town

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Twitter can be used for a lot of things — a personal newswire, celebrity PR machine, or meme distribution system. It appears that one small town in Spain is taking advantage of Twitter’s real-time conversation stream to replace the complaint line at City Hall.

MIT researchers working on a Twitter-financed project have published a long report about Twitter use by the government of Jun (pronounced “hoon”), a town of about 3,500 in southeastern Spain.

Residents sending complaints to city officials over Twitter isn’t a new phenomenon, of course. In the United States, as the researchers note, US Senator Cory Booker gained some notoriety when he was mayor of Newark, N.J., for very actively responding to constituent tweets about potholes and broken infrastructure. Boston, like many other major cities, does the same thing every day.

The unique thing about Jun’s Twitter use, the MIT researchers say, is that the city has taken the extra step of encouraging people to verify that they’re actual residents, so they can be sure the communications are real. And it doesn’t stop there: Residents’ tweets are incorporated into livestreamed city council meetings, and people in the town use Twitter to book medical appointments, find out the school lunch menu, and follow the town’s street-sweeper driver.

This is the first substantial report from MIT’s Laboratory for Social Machines, a social-media research project that is very, very closely aligned with Twitter. The lab’s director, MIT professor Deb Roy, also is a Twitter employee following its acquisition of his startup, Bluefin Labs. Twitter also has pledged $10 million over five years for the project and given the lab unprecedented access to the entire archive of every tweet ever sent. With that relationship in mind, it’s not a big surprise that the lab has found a charming tale of a small town using Twitter to make things better for its residents.

The researchers did, however, point out a few negative aspects: they quoted one anonymous resident who disliked the mayor’s tweet-campaigning and the town employees’ brown-nosing. The mayor himself, a champion of the project, still thinks the immediate access can make constituents more impatient about response times.

The Social Machines group says it plans to dig further into Jun’s Twitter experiment and will publish more information later.

Photo of Jun via Flickr user Barbara Eckstein