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These Amazing Twitter Metadata Visualizations Will Blow Your Mind

Metadata in Twitter posts lets readers in on your geographic location, the language you speak, the phone you use, and more. They're also a mapmaker's best friend.

  • <p>Tourists in downtown Manhattan congregate at Ground Zero, the Statue of Liberty Ferry, and the Staten Island Ferry.</p>
  • <p>Tokyo is a hotbed of tourists.</p>
  • <p>Twitter metadata from out-of-town accounts can accurately pinpoint the location of Yankee Stadium in New York.</p>
  • <p>London is a hotbed of non-Anglophone Twitter users in the United Kingdom.</p>
  • <p>Twitter metadata clearly shows Montreal divided into Anglophone and Francophone neighborhoods.</p>
  • <p>Canada is home to the BlackBerry... and central Toronto loves their BlackBerries.</p>
  • <p>Egypt loves their BlackBerries, Israel prefers iPhones, and Lebanon's a toss for BlackBerry and iPhone.</p>
  • <p>Android and iPhone use in Philadelphia and its suburbs corresponds almost exactly to income and class lines.</p>
  • <p>The location of non-English speaking Twitter users in Orlando corresponds exactly to the location of Walt Disney World and other major theme parks.</p>
  • <p>The phones mobile users use to tweet vary widely around the world.</p>
  • 01 /10
    | Tourists In Downtown Manhattan

    Tourists in downtown Manhattan congregate at Ground Zero, the Statue of Liberty Ferry, and the Staten Island Ferry.

  • 02 /10
    | Tourism In Japan & Korea

    Tokyo is a hotbed of tourists.

  • 03 /10
    | Yankee Stadium... In Metadata Form

    Twitter metadata from out-of-town accounts can accurately pinpoint the location of Yankee Stadium in New York.

  • 04 /10
    | London's Multilingual Tweets

    London is a hotbed of non-Anglophone Twitter users in the United Kingdom.

  • 05 /10
    | Montreal's Linguistic Divide

    Twitter metadata clearly shows Montreal divided into Anglophone and Francophone neighborhoods.

  • 06 /10
    | Toronto Is A BlackBerry City

    Canada is home to the BlackBerry... and central Toronto loves their BlackBerries.

  • 07 /10
    | Phones Of The Middle East

    Egypt loves their BlackBerries, Israel prefers iPhones, and Lebanon's a toss for BlackBerry and iPhone.

  • 08 /10
    | Philadelphia's Class--And Phone--Divisions

    Android and iPhone use in Philadelphia and its suburbs corresponds almost exactly to income and class lines.

  • 09 /10
    | Overseas Visitors Love Walt Disney World

    The location of non-English speaking Twitter users in Orlando corresponds exactly to the location of Walt Disney World and other major theme parks.

  • 10 /10
    | Indonesian BlackBerries And Spanish Androids

    The phones mobile users use to tweet vary widely around the world.

Twitter's full data stream—their "firehose"—is a very detailed thing. Access to raw tweet upon raw tweet lets brands know what customers think and allows first responders to instantly tabulate hurricane damage. The firehose is also full of metadata which discloses personal, geographic, and technological information on Twitter's tens of millions of users. Gnip, one of the best known Twitter firehose resellers, just turned a raw sample of metadata from 280 million tweets into an amazing example of data visualization.

The fully scalable and searchable visualizations, created by Eric Fischer and MapBox for Gnip, uses metadata from 280 million tweets collected from a data sample going back to 2011. Gnip's Ian Cairns told Fast Company in a phone conversation the sample was pruned to remove multiple tweets from the same geographic location in order to emphasize geographic distribution rather than tweet frequency. Gnip and MapBox only selected tweets with location metadata attached, which ranged from 2% to 4% of the total tweets in Twitter's firehose. When posting messages to Twitter, users can choose whether to embed geographic location metadata. According to Cairns, the percentage of tweets with location metadata attached is decreasing over time.

Twitter use by locals and tourists. Click to enlarge.

One visualization of Twitter use by locals and tourists uses Twitter metadata to break down the percentage of residents and tourists in a specific geographic area. "Tourists" are defined as Twitter users who sent tweets from a specific city for less than a month. In New York City's Financial District, Fast Company's home grounds, most tweets come from locals—except around the World Trade Center site, the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island Ferries, and the Staten Island Ferry where tourists all predominate. Further north in the Bronx, the location info from Twitter metadata is clear enough to make out Yankee Stadium.

Languages. Click to enlarge.

A second visualization shows language use on Twitter. Metadata from Twitter messages also tells the language the tweet was sent in. In the United Kingdom, most tweets are in English...except in London, where a cacophony of foreign-language tweets dominate the visualization. Across the channel in France, a blip of color shows up from the tourists and non-Francophone migrants in the seaside city of Calais.

Similarly, in bilingual Montreal, the visualization gives an instant snapshot of the city's demographics. Montreal's downtown is Francophone with visible English-speaking pockets surrounding Mont Royal park, and the city's suburbs are neatly segmented in English- and French-speaking segments.

Devices. Click to enlarge.

The last visualization illustrates what mobile devices are used to post to Twitter. Separate colors are coded to BlackBerry, Android, and iPhone. In Toronto, for instance, there is a BlackBerry-using urban core in the city's financial quarters surrounded by a iPhone-loving periphery.

Different countries also prefer different technology. In the Middle East, iPhones dominate in Israel. To the north, iPhones are also preferred into the Lebanese capital of Beirut... but Androids are more common in the hinterlands. Meanwhile, Jordan is equally split between phone formats while BlackBerry has a stronghold in Egypt and Android is most common in the Gaza Strip.

There were surprises to be found in the map also. Cairn noted that he was taken aback by the relatively small number of BlackBerry users in D.C. compared to the iPhone and Android. Could the federal government's march toward non-BlackBerry BYOD be having an effect?

But for this observer, the most interesting takeaway is the way phone ownership is neatly tied to socio-economic class in the United States. In the city of Philadelphia, the phone OS visualization paralleled the city's class divisions to a T. Prosperous Center City is a mix of BlackBerry and iPhone users. Economically struggling North Philadelphia and the neighboring city of Camden are solid Android territory. The posh suburbs of the Main Line are dominated by iPhone owners, while more working class suburbs such as Norristown and Upper Darby are Android strongholds.

So why do these amazing visualizations? Gnip's stock-in-trade is offering Twitter's firehose and resulting analytics to enterprise customers. As Cairns put it, "We're comfortable with our scope and the business data we offer—this is just us showing off."

Slideshow Credits: 01 / Gnip; 02 / Gnip; 03 / Gnip; 04 / Gnip; 05 / Gnip; 06 / Gnip; 07 / Gnip; 08 / Gnip; 09 / Gnip; 10 / Gnip;