Vancouver Photo: CC Ted McGrath. Montreal Photo: Marcell Katona

Ottawa is one of the happiest cities in Canada, according to a recent Twitter study done by University of Ottawa researchers.

By analyzing tweets from six major Canadian cities—Ottawa, Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, and Halifax—researchers determined moods in each city relative to each other.

The study was conducted by the university’s Multimedia Communications Research Laboratory, led by director Abdulmotaleb El Saddik, who also holds positions as the research chair in ambient media and a professor at the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Fellow U of O researchers Benjamin Guthier, Rajwa Alharthi, and Rana Abaalkhail also participated.

“Social media is the natural candidate for research in multimedia communications,” said El Saddik. “The goal was to see how the mood of a smart or technologically advanced city develops, and rectifying negative problems on the fly.”

From Dec. 4 to 10, researchers collected 132,181 tweets, which they analyzed to determine the human emotion behind them.

“Tweets are usually rich in information because every poster is obliged to have short, concise sentences, sometimes using hashtags to explain details,” said El Saddik.

Before the study began, tweets with 47 different “emotion-word” hashtags were collected and had features—including location, emoticons, hashtags, and the actual words—extracted from them. These tweets trained a neural network that then collected and analyzed the actual tweets used.

A four-dimensional vector analysis used elements of pleasantness, arousal, dominance, and unpredictability to analyze the emotions of the tweets.

“Every emotion has positive and negative values within this four dimensional space,” said El Saddik. “For example, a hashtag ‘proud’ has positive values in dominance and pleasantness, while the hashtag ‘disgusting’ has negative values in pleasantness and arousal.”

Tweeters in Ottawa and Montreal had “stable, constant happiness” compared to the other cities, said El Saddik, while Edmonton was the “least happy” city on average.

El Saddik said it’s “too early to determine the reason, but falling oil prices at the time may have led to people (being) afraid of losing their jobs.”

In the morning, Vancouver and Montreal had 13.8 per cent happier tweets than Edmonton. During the workday, Ottawa and Toronto became the happiest cities, with 7.8 and 8.6 per cent more happy tweets than Edmonton.

One surprising result, said El Saddik, was that Halifax appeared to be Canada’s party city. On Friday nights and weekends, the city had 17 per cent more happy tweets compared to Vancouver, the second-closest city.

Events also triggered sudden changes in mood. On Dec. 9, researchers noticed an upswing in happy tweets in Montreal and sad tweets from Vancouver. The Canadiens had just beaten the Canucks 3-1.

El Saddik said the next project involves analyzing the tweets collected over a larger period of time. “Now that we start to understand this data,” he said, “we can move onto a longer collection period and compare the tweets to major events occurring during that time. Further analysis on how events trigger tweets would be useful.”

He noted that Twitter analysis can get the same results as a 500-person survey easier and faster. By seeing the happiness levels of a city, politicians could better serve the public by reacting in “real-time” to complaints, he said.