Revaluating urban space through tweets: An analysis of Twitter-based mobile food vendors and online communication.

Wessel, G., Ziemkiewicz, C., & Sauda, E.

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Wessel, G., Ziemkiewicz, C., & Sauda, E. (2016). Revaluating urban space through tweets: An analysis of Twitter-based mobile food vendors and online communication. New Media & Society, 18(8), 1636–1656.

Food Vending , Mobility , Social Media , Topic Modeling , Tweets , Twitter , Urban Space

The rise of mobile food vending in US cities combines urban space and mobility with continuous online communication. Unlike traditional urban spaces that are predictable and known, contemporary vendors use information technology to generate impromptu social settings in unconventional and often underutilized spaces. This unique condition requires new methods that interpret online communication as a critical component in the production of new forms of public life. We suggest qualitative approaches combined with data-driven analyses are necessary when planning for emergent behavior. In Charlotte, NC, we investigate the daily operations, tweet content, and spatial and temporal sequencing of six vendors over an extended period of time. The study illustrates the interrelationship between data, urban space, and time and finds that a significant proportion of tweet content is used to announce vending locations in a time-based pattern and that the spatial construction of events is often independent of traditional urban form.

Main finding
In this study of mobile food vendors who use Twitter as a marketing platform, researchers find the application allows owners to engage with customers in several ways, including: announcing scheduled locations, expressing gratitude toward customers, giving statements about operations, and listing menu changes. However, the researchers code the most common category of tweets as “Miscellaneous,” indicating variability in message types researchers were not able to classify. Mobile food vendors generally tended to serve white, middle-class residents of Charlotte, in contrast with the Latino-operated food trucks that serve lower-income laborers. The use of Twitter to advertise temporary vending locations also relates to activation of public spaces, as many locations used by food trucks are privately owned and not designed as gathering places for people (e.g., dirt parcels, vehicular thoroughfares, large parking lots, etc.), but are temporarily populated due to the success of Twitter-based marketing.

Description of method used in the article
Analysis of online communications (via Twitter) among six mobile food vendors in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2012. Twitter analysis involved a cluster/topic analysis of individual tweets. Other methods include ethnographic interviews with vendors (N = 10), participant observation, spatial mapping vendor movements, and temporal sequencing throughout the city. Analysis is oriented toward how mobile food vendors engage in online communication in relation to their businesses.

Of some practical use if combined with other research

Organising categories