Do WiFi names speak louder than tweets? (May 2012)

The use of SSIDs to show political allegiance

Please note: some of the wifi names appearing in the maps contain bad language (and poor punctuation)

Shorter than a tweet at only 32 characters but having a lifespan of years and visible to all who pass within about 30m, your SSID - the name of your WiFi router - may have more reach than your twitter account.

The lifespan of a tweet is about one hour. After that it sinks into oblivion. Estimates of the average number of twitter followers range from 26 to 127. A single tweet will reach 50 or so people. If you live in a city your neighbours, your guests, the guests of your neighbours, even the pizza guy all have a good chance of seeing your wifi router. If you live near a busy street, even better!

Are WiFi names being chosen to make points? Catching the bus home in Buenos Aires recently, I was idly trying to find an open hotspot when I noticed the names of 3 politicians appear as SSIDs within just a few blocks - Moreno, Cristina and Nestor. Each of these could well be a coincidence, but taken together amongst all the linksys, FT7898, Motorola SSIDs they stood out as tokens of political allegiance. I decided to look deeper into the data: are WiFi SSIDs being used to fly political colours?

Right: New York detail, taken from map below.

The Study

Through our OpenSignal Android App we've built a database of 75m geolocated routers (well 74,908,115 this morning) - perfect for investigations like this.

We decided to begin not with Argentina but by looking for occurrences of "Obama" as it is an uncommon sequence of letters. Mostly, when "Obama" appeared (in whatever combination of cases e.g. "oBaMa") it did seem to be in reference to President Barack Obama - though there were instances where that was not so, such as "BobAmazon" or "JacobAmanda". We found 1140 results for "Obama" and an additional 6 that contained "Romney"" - likely because Obama's been president for four years (thanks for pointing that out ComputerGuru).

Then we assigned them sentiment values and mapped them ...

Negative sentiment

Not sure

Positive sentiment

We made these a bit smaller as they're less interesting

So ... do people like Obama or not?

While fun to look at, this gives a chaotic picture of net sentiment country by country. To make things clearer we did some simple maths.

At country level, we added 1 for WiFi expressing positive sentiment and subtracted 1 for negative. So a score of 0 represents a perfect split in opinion for a country. We converted these to percentages for "Obama positivity" by dividing by the number of WiFi routers sampled. In the US: 401 wifi names indicating positive sentiment and 355 indicating negative sentiment towards Obama, the sentiment is just net positive with a 6% swing in favour.

Note how outside of the US sentiment, as judged by this crude method, is overwhelmingly positive. In many countries it is 100% - dark blue represents high Obama positivity. No countries had a net negative sentiment.

Back to Buenos Aires

According to this eccentric measure of sentiment Obama is much more popular outside of the US than within. Why is this? It may be that Obama is genuinely more popular in the rest of the world but maybe it is because outside of the US people are less likely to express negative sentiments towards politicians in this manner. We can't answer this definitively but looking at Argentina, at least, does suggest this is the case.

We scanned for references to current president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (almost universally known in Argentina as Cristina, though often referred to as CFK ) we also searched for references to her husband and former president the late Nestor Kirchner and for references to Eva or Juan Peron. Here the data was a bit trickier as WiFis called "Cristina" may or may not refer to President CFK. To highlight the most interesting data we've made names that clearly express sentiment much larger.

Clear negative sentiment
Not sure/relevant
Possible positive sentiment
Clear positive sentiment

What does seem clear is that, of the routers clearly showing political sentiment, the sentiments are mostly positive with 114 supporting either Cristina, Nestor or Peron and 4 against. Another 580 we've tentatively put down as positive. Though CFK enjoys support from many quarters (and won a 54% majority recently) we would expect more routers to be named unfavourably. In Argentina, it seems people are more comfortable broadcasting positive sentiments via WiFi names.

How and why we did this

The hardest part of this analysis was assigning sentiment values. It was immediately clear that even state of the art natural language software would be unable to parse "ObamaDaClown", "ObamaPrezNaaaaw" or "Obamarama" let alone determine whether these reflect negative or positive sentiments. So we put the routers into Excel and went through them by hand. Even then there were some riddles, does "Obama_is_a_socialist" reflect negative sentiment? To many Europeans it would not, but in a US context (and this was a US router, indeed one of several with similar messages) we judged it a criticism.

Credit should go to Marc Ridley whose Google Map label.js class we adapted for this report. Thanks also to everyone who pointed out where we'd got the sentiment wrong - Camiller and Matt Elliott who told us that "GoBama" is used to express support for Alabama Crismon Tide football team; to lordarm who spotted that "Obama Killed Me" is not positive; and AdrianBravo for flagging up "ObamaNation" as a pun on Abomination and having negative connotations. These have been corrected.

The data comes from OpenSignal for Android, an app which collects signal and wifi data for the purpose of showing users where they can get reception and which network is best for them. Our NetworkRank tool shows the best network for any area you scroll to on a Google Map. But we can also use this data to make reports like the one you are reading, or our recent one on Android fragmentation, or this one on which network will give you best performance on the iPhone 4S. In upcoming reports we intend to look at which phones use the most battery and determine the environmental cost of faster networks and larger screens.

Disclaimers

This report was prepared by James Robinson, Android developer and one of the founders of OpenSignal. Given the broad range of political opinions expressed by WiFi names it's fair to say that some of them are the same as his own. But he's not saying which.

Please also note that we have added some random fuzz on the positioning of routers, pitchfork-yielding mobs should not hunt down political opponents based on this map. Or any other for that matter.