A study finds that -- surprise! -- the Twitter world mirrors patterns in our offline world.
You know the maps that show the criss-crossing lines of global air routes? Well, if you could make a map of Twitter, with arched lines tracing the connections among the places that tweeters and their followers live, it would look quite similar -- and not just in that it would be a map of connections all around the world, but much more of a direct resemblance: Air routes are a pretty good predictor of relationships on Twitter.
This is the conclusion of a new study from three Canadian researchers, who compared Twitter connections and airline routes. Though local connections make up a good bulk of Twitter ties (39 percent), the frequency of airline connections between two places is a good proxy for ties that go outside of one's hometown. This means "the strength of prior ties between places matters more than the simple distance between them."
Of course, this isn't only because the constant flights provide more opportunities for connection between residents of two distant places; the airline connections are themselves like the Twitter connections -- a manifestation of an existing relationship between two places. In this sense, it's no more surprising that New York and London are well connected on Twitter than it is that they are well connected by air travel.