Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How Twitter is Connected

With the rise of the social network came the ability for people to connect with anybody, anywhere.  Post a thought on Twitter one day, and anybody, anywhere in the world, can read it online regardless of distance, country, or language.  So is it surprising that these factors still affect the connectivity of Twitter?

Researchers at the University of Toronto have looked into the influence of geographical location, air travel, national boundaries, and languages on connections made in Twitter, highlighting the importance of existing face to face relationships to the connectivity of the social network.

The most obvious factor influencing the connectivity of Twitter is geographical proximity.  The largest clusters in Twitter are roughly the size of metropolitan areas - in order of size these clusters are, not surprisingly, New York City, Los Angeles, Tokyo, London, and Sao Paolo, with more than half of the top 25 clusters in the United States.  This relationship with geography is due possibly to similar concerns from being in the same neighborhood or from just knowing people nearby.

For larger distances, frequency of air travel between cities better correlates to whether or not two Twitter users are connected.  The easier it is to fly from one place to another, the more likely it is for two people in these cities to personally know each other.  Therefore, it is also more likely for them to be connected on Twitter.
The last two factors are national boundaries and language.  Obviously, most clusters exist in countries with more Internet access - and people from less advanced countries are more likely to follow people from the advanced countries because their well being is likely affected by the decisions and actions of those countries.  Next, of course, English is the predominant language on Twitter and most people follow users who tweet in English or their own native language.

Overall, this paper is important because it shows the importance of physical social interactions even in the virtual world of social networks.  Despite the entire world being available to everyone, we still connect similarly on the web as we do in person.

"Geography of Twitter Networks" by Yuri takhteyev, Anatoliy Gruzd, and Barry Wellman

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