Monday, March 16, 2009

The Crazy World of Twitter and Geography

Prior to this year, I had no idea what Twitter was, or how it worked. However, this new online digital landscape has provided another avenue for people to share their ideas. Twitter is a social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read other users' updates known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length.

It appears that most people don't really understand what twitter is. A funny overview from the Daily Show.

And why people love twitter....

And an even funnier version - The Trouble with Twitter....

So, what does Twitter have to do with Geography. As I have already discussed on a previous blog entry, 80% of all information on the internet is now stored spatially (by location). Where people 'twitter' and what they 'twitter' about, provides an excellent analysis of what is occuring in specific locations around the world. An example of this is the interactive Superbowl Twitter map put together by the New York Times. The relationships between what people were 'tweeting' about in relationship to the game, where they were 'tweeting' from, and what they 'tweeted' at each stage of the game could be discussed.

The combination of social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, Youtube) and locational information could prove to be a great relationship. The following article from Fortune Magazine Geography, Social Media and Breakfast highlights the movement towards representing the social media sites in a spatial way. The article discusses twittervision and its inventor, David Troy. Twittervision is a map that automatically updates with each tweet around the globe. The 3D version can be found at twittervision3D. (Along the same lines, check out Flickrvision using Flickr images and SpinvisionTv using YouTube).

As the article states, 'watching them (tweets) can quickly start giving you new thoughts about our common life with others on the planet'. Troy is working to take the concept further - to combine postings from Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and other services in a single geographic interface.

So, what does this have to do with your Geography teaching? In particular, the impact that Twitter and other social networking sites have had on providing up-to-date information on natural disasters and world events has been quite remarkable. Disaster managers are beginning to see the benefits of Twitter and other Social Networking sites in saving lives.

Another example is SickCity, a new twitter mashup that uses twitter to map and track human health.

Practical examples on how to use Twitter in your Geography classroom are also available. These ideas - Twitter Alter Ego Idea - has been taking from a Geography Teachers blog - Living Geography. Another awesome example is found on, Using Twitter and Google Earth in the Classroom to Make the most of the weather. Finally, a great overview - Twenty-One Interesting Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom.

So, be it a little crazy or confusing, there are some great applications for Twitter in the Geography classroom. So, here I go.... to join Twitter..... and begin tweeting away.


  1. Wonderful to read your musings again. Teaching is a bummer in that it envelopes you every now and then - glad you can make time to rejoin us every couple of weeks. Still not convinced on the usefulness of twitter as a whole, I do like the geo apps though - the cartoon video spoke to me the loudest.....

  2. Great links and ideas for applying Twitter to geography. Another idea is to use it to study information/news flows - much media reporting of late has tracked the 'instant reporting' of events, such as the plane crash in the Hudson River. Twitter has also beat traditional news sources in reporting natural disasters such as the recent Melbourne earthquakes, and most notably the Sichuan earthquakes of 2008.