Study Examines the Benefits of Online Reviews to Planning Research

Online reviews aren't representative of overall neighborhood populations, but they can reveal data that otherwise might go unnoticed during research phases of planning processes.
March 13, 2019, 6am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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David Jackmanson

Charlotte Hsu shares new research that makes the case for allowing space for online reviews in planning processes.

Every day, people share a dizzying amount of information about local communities online. They talk about whether their neighbors are friendly, how well the buses run, what kinds of restaurants are in an area, and much, much more.

A new study by University at Buffalo researcher Yingjie Hu shows how we can sort through this vast trove of digital data to improve cities and people's quality of life.

The study, published by the Annals of the American Association of Geographers, posts on the site Niche.com to search for insights about public opinion.

"The goal was to efficiently sort through thousands of opinions to learn about people's perceptions of their communities," explains Hsu. "The study combined spatial analysis, machine learning and natural language processing techniques to identify features of neighborhoods that people talked about online, and what reviewers' general feelings were about those attributes."

So, can online reviews help planners spot insights into public opinion they might otherwise miss? According to researchers, data harvesting can complement traditional methods of public engagement and research.

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Published on Monday, March 11, 2019 in PhysOrg
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