Internet Geographer


Posts tagged klout
America's most influential cities: the urban geography of klout scores

My colleague Devin Gaffney and I decided to dig deeper into the geography of Klout and examine the geography of some of the largest cities in the US. We found some very interesting patterns and large differences in the average influence of users in American cities.

Klout scores, for those unfamiliar with them, fall between 0 and 100 and supposedly measure influence (higher scores indicating that a person is more influential). As, I’ve noted before, this sort of quantification of a person’s influence based on online activity is inherently problematic. It defines influence rather narrowly and then ranks each person with a highly decontextualised score that is unlikely to account for the many nuanced ways that influence is perceived and enacted. However, despite the problematic nature of the service, it is nonetheless important to attempt to better understand how it is measuring and representing people.  

We therefore decided to calculate the average Klout score of 49 of the largest American cities. The map below displays each city as a circle that is shaded and sized according to its Klout score. In the interest of clarity, only the top-ten and bottom four cities are labelled. 

First, a few words on how we collected the data: From April 8th to April 29th, 2012, approximately 195 million tweets were collected via Twitter’s “spritzer” access level. Geo-coded tweets were selected using the API’s internal methods. The resulting dataset was then cross-referenced against a list of fifty bounding boxes approximating the general conurbation of every city and its suburbs (so as to capture the full scope of the metropolitan area at large). For each resultant bounded set, 1,000 random users were selected from the city and referenced against Klout’s score API. For each city, slightly less than 1,000 users are shown, as some of the tweeting users have not been detected and scored by Klout, and as a result have no score.

The city with the best average influence score (29.1) for its users is San Francisco (which perhaps unsurprisingly is also the headquarters of Klout). San Francisco’s average score is also interestingly significantly higher than the city with the second-highest average (Austin at 27.8). We then see a tighter cluster of average city scores for Seattle in third place (27.1), and two more Bay Area cities in fourth and fifth: Oakland (27.1) and San Jose (26.8).

At the bottom end of the scale we have Houston (23.3), Jacksonville (22.9), Memphis (22.8), and Virginia Beach (22.7).

Why do we see such variance in the geography of Klout scores? Are people in San Francisco and Austin really that much more influential than people in Houston or Memphis? Klout scores certainly aren’t (well, at least they don’t appear to be) randomly assigned. They are derived by combining score of number of followers, number of people you follow, number of (and spread of) retweets etc.

But does the geography of Klout actually tell us anything useful about these cities? By themselves, I think these data tell us almost nothing. They are a very blunt and fuzzy tool applied to a limited sample and we should be hesitant about reading too much into the numbers. However, when brought together with other data and research about information production and consumption, influence, and voice they potentially allow us to us to draw more rounded pictures about the sub-national geographies of the internet.

One interesting point is the discrepancy between these city-level scores as compared to the national scores conducted in an earlier study. While no conclusive reason has been found for this discrepancy, a few possibilities may create this effect. One theory may be that the users sampled for this report were collected on twitter in April 2012 - many of them may have since decreased the usage of their accounts, and as a result the scores may have decreased. Another theory is that there may be some correlation with users located outside of population centers having higher scores. Despite this, the data being shown was exhaustively assessed in order to determine the extent to which this discrepancy could have been in error, and has found to be accurate.
the geography of klout scores - or why are the French so influential?

Most Twitter users have heard of Klout scores. These scores which fall between 0 and 100 supposedly measure influence (higher scores indicating that a person is more influential). This isn’t to say that such quantification of a person’s influence based on online activity is entirely unproblematic. The entire endeavour is worrying on a number of levels, and it is highly unlikely that a single number (especially a number generated using Klout’s methods) could ever sum up the various ways in which influence is perceived and enacted. 

Nonetheless, I wanted to map the service in order to see how the geography of online influence (according to Klout) might vary over space. With the help of Devin Gaffney, I did just that: 

Over the course of four consecutive days of polling for 30 seconds every 5 minutes from Twitter’s spritzer-level of access, we collected a total of 3,598,060 geotagged tweets via the random public timeline. These geotagged tweets were then bundled into their respective countries of origin, and the resulting set of country-bundled tweets were sampled randomly for up to 1000 users. 

The resulting sample of users were queried using Klout’s API. The map above shows only countries with a user sample size of more than fifty users (who publish geotagged tweets). Looking at the data, we see a very interesting amount of variation. The average score, globally, is just 26. 

France has the highest score with an average of 37.8 (taken from a sample of 837 users in the country).  The UK (34.9), Sweden (34.8), Brasil (34.8), and Indonesia (34.2) all follow closely behind (Brazil and Indonesia are incidentally some of the world’s most prolific tweeters). 

The US, which normally excels in all metrics of online visibility/power/reach comes in at 10th with an average Klout score of 33. This isn’t to say that tweets emanating from the US as a whole are not influential. The US is the world’s largest source of content on Twitter. This massive amount of information, pushed through the platform, undoubtedly means that American users in the aggregate have a large amount of visibility. 

Yet it remains that they have a relatively weak average ‘influence.’ Nonetheless, despite the strong scores of Brasil and Indonesia, it remains that we (perhaps unsurprisingly) see that most countries in the Global South have less 'influence’ than their Northern counterparts. In the list of top-20 Klout scores, there are only two countries with a GDP per capita below the world average (Indonesia and Egypt).

Kenya scores highest in Sub-Saharan Africa (in 22nd place globally) with an average Klout score of 31. Most other Sub-Saharan nations are then much lower down in the list of average influence.

This doesn’t mean that there is a clear relationship between GDP (or level of 'development’) and Klout scores (Australia, for instance, is in 52nd position on our list). However, with a few exceptions, poor countries tend to have relatively low scores. 

Is this because we are picking up traces of the cultural dominance of the North even in a supposedly decentralised network? (i.e. Northern tweeters might tend of have greater reach and amplification than their Southern counterparts) This finding doesn’t mean much for any particular person attempting to communicate or spread a message, but still potentially sheds light on the issue of voice in the world’s margins. 

On the other hand, perhaps we are just reproducing and amplifying opaque and highly problematic data. We should therefore certainly not overreach in any interpretations of these data. 

Nonetheless, I still want to know if the French truly are more influential on Twitter than everyone else? And, if so, why?