A Visual Representation Of a Month In the Life Of Twitter

The online journal First Monday has published a study that maps the geography of the world's tweets.

Entitled, "Mapping the global Twitter heartbeat: The geography of Twitter," the project, which covers the period October 23, 2102, to November 30, 2012 in which there were 1.5 billion tweets from more than 70 million users, uses geographic metadata to create maps of the world according to Twitter. Back in 2009, Twitter made it possible for users to include geographic data showing where the tweet was authored. Using the Twitter Decahose, "which consists of 10% of all tweets sent globally each day," the researchers have created a visual representation of what a month in the life of Twitter looks like. Although only a small percentage, 3.04%, of the tweets sent that month contained geolocation data, it still amounts to a lot of information and makes for fascinating viewing.

With the growth of the internet having made possible a "world in which a person may speak to another on the other side of the planet with just a few millisecond delay, effectively removing the geographic barrier," the project allows us to see which parts of the world are using Twitter the most and also shows the diminishing importance of geographical proximity in terms of how people are communicating with each other.

Twitter use by country

Image credit: Silicon Graphics International

The largest dark spot in terms of Twitter use is in China, where Twitter is officially banned, although people still use it through virtual private networks. Most people in China use the microblogging site Weibo, which is like a cross between Twitter and Facebook and is one the most popular websites in the country. The other is Africa. Twitter use in Africa is growing, especially amongst the younger generation, and it is "fast becoming an important source of information on a continent with few guarantees of press freedom." However, there are still a comparatively small number of users, especially amongst politicians and businesses. See here for a bigger, high-resolution of the map.

Twitter use by language

Image credit: Silicon Graphics International 

The map above shows a breakdown of the above but color coded according to what language the tweets were written in. See here for a bigger version.

The geography of retweeting

Image credit: Silicon Graphics International

The project also looked at the geography of retweeting, with the map above showing the physical distance between people has surprising little influence on people when it comes to their retweets. According to the study, "average distance between all 32.5 million retweet pairings in which both users have known Exact Location positions is 749 statute miles" or around 1200 kilometres. For a full size version see here.

As we witnessed with the Arab uprisings, social media is playing an increasingly important role in the spread of ideas and how people communicate across geographical boundaries, a trend confirmed by the data. According to the authors of the study:

"There appears to be only weak geographic affinity in communicative link formation in that users retweet and reference users far away nearly as often as they do those physically proximate to them. Similarly, half of the news coverage tweeted by users was about events close to them, while a nearly equal amount was far away. This suggests that social media is indeed having a significant impact on the role of geographic proximity in the communicative landscape."