Are top Twitter cities really helping track user location?

When I see tweets about the social space I usually get suckered in to the link because of a catchy tag line. One that recently caught my attention mentioned the top cities that tweet. Finally, something I would find useful. The best I could find previously was a content analysis of a portion of the Twitterverse that didn't yield enough data to be truly useful. Like all things Twitter is was just a snapshot in time. After clicking a link like this I look to see how such a bold claim could be explained. The fine folks at Twitter Grader made it quite clear where the information came from and it is dead simple. They looked at the tweets that had the location set by the user. 

As these type of things go I suppose it makes sense that you could keep up with Twitter users by that variable. Most people are likely to set it to their true location where they live rather than the location they would rather be, but there isn't anything stopping them. This approach doesn't take into account the physical location of the user when they tweet. In a really poor example, what if everyone that says they are in London never actually tweet anything while they are in London? Maybe all Twitter users that are London residents only hop on twitter when they are in Brighton for the weekend.

What I find interesting is that on Twitter Grader you will see a city like Austin, TX ranked #12. Austin doesn't even rank in the top cities by population in the world. According to this Wikipedia page Austin is ranked #15 in the US with 757,688 people. Austin showing up on the list is not surprising given the tech centric focus in the city. Keeping in mind that these numbers are based purely on Twitter encouraging users to set a location preference when they hit the website I find this stat less meaningful than I'd hoped. Meaning if a city with 750,000 people is at #12 then how many more could London have in the number one spot? London is 10 times the size of Austin. 

Allowing users to set their location is a nice touch, but as someone looking to find people I'm more interested in where they are at the moment and where they want to go. To me the city or location affiliation is nothing more than a preference for the user to identify with a locale rather. I need deeper associations and context and the location preference doesn't really provide what I'm looking for. The search continues.


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