Solving Problems in 140 Characters

Sarah Boswell, '12, knows all about short.

For two weeks, her job was to keep track of the needs and wants of fans and visitors at Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis in 140-character increments.

The journalism graduate—along with dozens of other volunteers from Ball State and other central Indiana universities—sifted through Twitter feeds and other forms of social media, looking for mentions of the Super Bowl or Indianapolis.

"We were monitoring sites to see what people were talking about, like if there were parking issues or other questions that might need answering," says Boswell, who was a senior and editor in chief of The Ball State Daily News at the time.

The monitoring operation, created by Indianapolis interactive marketing firm Raidious, used a bank of Mac computers staffed by tech-savvy student volunteers to track relevant conversations in search of questions to answer or problems to solve.

For the most part, the issues were strictly routine, says John Strauss, a Ball State journalism instructor who helped recruit volunteers and organize the student effort. This was simply a chance to immerse them in something that had never been tried before on such a scale. Super Bowl organizers, Strauss says, believed that keeping track of social media traffic to head off problems would be good and left it to Raidious to make it happen.

Taulbee Jackson, president and CEO of Raidious, says Ball State figured prominently in the effort from the computer science students who crafted useful software tools to the volunteers who monitored the traffic.

"Ball State was very proactive about being involved," Jackson says, "and they were an enormous part of the effort. I can’t say enough about the job everyone did—the students and the faculty members were just tremendous to work with."

The work actually began well before the game. Ball State students helped Raidious fine-tune the monitoring center by coming in periodically during the months before the Super Bowl to try it out, including a trial run for the Big Ten Football Championship game.

"They were the test pilots in this new realm without any textbooks or operating manuals," Strauss says. "In fact, they got to help write those books."