Journalism Tech Radar - Banjo

Name: Banjo


Use for News: Banjo began four years ago as a way of collecting and viewing geolocated social media posts, tagged to organised events. It was reinvented after the bombing of the Boston Marathon in 2013, when founder and chief executive Damien Patton realised that he was seeing and understanding events unfolding before even the police knew what was happening on the ground.

Banjo software works by dividing the globe into 100m square sections. It scans and aggregates public posts from worldwide social media channels and assigns them to an area using location data analytics. It then uses pattern recognition to detect changes as they surface in photos, and it also searches text for keywords and phrases which might indicate excitement or panic and fear. The Website is currently trending the earthquake in Nepal, and the coverage provides an unfolding story of the impact of the event on individual lives.

Upside: Banjo has been described as an alert system for breaking news. Pattern himself calls it a ‘crystal ball’. In an interview with Douglas Macmillan at the Wall Street Journal, he describes the moment he realised the capabilities of his project.

‘Patton came up with the idea for his crystal ball on the day of the Boston Marathon in April 2013. Initially, onlookers didn’t know a bomb had caused the explosion near the finish line, so in the minutes after the incident he scanned photos that had been collected and tagged to that location on the earlier version of Banjo. Piecing them together and seeing for himself that it had been a bomb, he realized that the technology could be valuable to a range of companies who need to quickly scan the world for imagery in real time, or even go back in time and replay events. “People were capturing the explosion by accident,” he said. “It’s like a giant Tivo – I just hit rewind and it played the entire incident”’.

Downside: Will Bourne writing for Inc. in an article entitled ‘The Most Important Social Media Company You’ve Never Heard Of’ touches on a feeling of unease about ‘surveilance’ based technology.

‘If you think that sounds creepy, you’re forgiven. It’s not hard to imagine how Banjo could be turned to a darker purpose in the hands of an Assad or a Putin. Except for one thing: “The drone is there only when you want the drone there,” Epstein, the CMO, explains. “People want to be public, or they wouldn’t post publicly. And they want their location to be known, or they would turn their location settings off.”’