Back in the saddle with some Twitter maps to boot

As you may have noticed, I’ve been slacking off in my blog­ging duties recently (not with­standing yes­terday and the amazing guest posts you saw over the last couple weeks). While I offer my sin­cerest apolo­gies, I promise there was a per­fectly good excuse: I was busy get­ting mar­ried and then relaxing on the beach with my new husband.

Okay, maybe that’s not the best excuse but per­haps it’ll make you feel better to know that I’m finally back in the game. My head is once again screwed on straight after months of wor­rying about things like the color of plastic chair our guests’ bot­toms should be sta­tioned in and whether or not to endeavor into the folding of 90 paper cranes as seating cards (I opted in, despite formerly-​​referenced new husband’s protestations).

Returning to work after even a short hiatus is always daunting, if only for the fury of emails you find your­self sifting through. But this time, after I got through all the Google alerts, I felt a little like a kid in a candy shop: shelves full of won­derful sci­en­tific treats, mine for the blog­ging. One of these came from net­work sci­en­tist Alan Mis­love, an assis­tant pro­fessor in the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sciences.

A few years ago I stum­bled upon a map of the US by artist Ben Fry that depicted nothing but streets. Geo­graph­ical fea­tures like moun­tains, coast­lines, rivers, and val­leys emerged as a result of increasing or decreasing thor­ough­fare den­sity. Like­wise cities became vis­ible as dark con­cen­trated nodes, clots of tan­gled streets.

Mis­love has some­thing sim­ilar but, aston­ish­ingly, way cooler. It’s an inter­ac­tive map of the entire planet with nothing but Tweets drawing its lines. That’s right, Tweets. From Twitter. The visu­al­iza­tion is cre­ated from the 275 mil­lion geo-​​tagged tweets from a data set of more than 10 bil­lion that Mislove’s team col­lected between Jan­uary 2011 and April 2013.

Just as with Fry’s All Streets map, Mislove’s “all Twitter” map reveals a system of streets and roads that tell a geo­graph­ical story.…What’s amazing here is that those streets are emerging from the Tweets of the people pop­u­lating them. “The res­o­lu­tion of the data, the fact that you could see roads, etc., blew me away,” said Mis­love, who did all of this as a side project just to visu­alize where on the planet his data points were coming from.

The map also shows the ferry lines run­ning through the Eng­lish Channel and across the Irish Sea, for example. Or between Playa del Carmen (where I just spent ten days drinking pina coladas) and Cozumel. But the big thing this map shows us is where people are Tweeting most (or at least where people are geo­t­ag­ging their tweets the most). Unsur­pris­ingly, the US, Europe, and Japan take the cake, but so too do the coast­lines of nearly all the continents.

For future work, Mislove’s team is looking at how Twitter usage varies across dif­ferent regions. In the map below, the dif­ferent colors rep­re­sent the pre­dom­i­nant lan­guage spoken at each loca­tion (orange=English, blue=Spanish, green=French, red=German, purple=Portuguese, pink=Arabic, black=other).

This reminded me of some cool work from another net­work sci­en­tist Alessandro Vespig­nani, Stern­berg Family Dis­tin­guished Uni­ver­sity Pro­fessor of com­puter and infor­ma­tion sci­ence, health sci­ences, and physics. In a project called the Twitter of Babel, Vespig­nani and his team used geo-​​localized Tweets and auto­matic lan­guage detec­tion to map the most com­monly used lan­guages among Tweeters around the globe. As you can see below, the pic­ture, though not as col­orful as Mislove’s, tells a sim­ilar story. You can scroll over Vespignani’s Twitter of Babel map to see the break­down of spe­cific lan­guages spoken in each region. Does it sur­prise you as much as it does me that there are more Tagalog-​​speaking Tweeters in Penn­syl­vania than there are Spanish-​​speaking ones?

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