Which city tweets the most?

Jakarta University students during a visit from British Prime Minister, David Cameron. Image: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty.

Twitter is a pretty useful tool for city-dwellers. You can track transit hiccups. You can follow new bars that don’t even exist yet. You can exchange hilarious quips with friends, without actually venturing onto the busy streets to meet up with them.

In 2012, Semiocast, a market research company, decided to study over 1bn tweets sent in June that year, to find out which city tweets most and why. Many of its finding were pretty unsurprising: the US had the most Twitter accounts (over 140 million); English is the most widely-used language on Twitter.

When they looked at which cities tweet the most, however, things got more interesting. Second and third places went to Tokyo and London – but in the number one slot was Jakarta, Indonesia. Badung, another Indonesian city, was also in the top ten. Here's a chart, showing their top 20:

Perhaps excited by this unexpected victory, Brand24, an Indonesian social marketing company, conducted another study in 2013, this time looking at 10.3 billion tweets from January to March of that year. Jakarta made the top spot again. In fact, tweets from Jakarta, which contains 0.28 per cent of the world’s population, made up for 2.4 per cent of the world’s tweets during that period.

This meteroric rise is perhaps surprising for a different reason, too: it’s a relatively recent development. GNIP, another social media analysis company – there are, it seems, loads – found that in 2008, tweets in Indonesian accounted for 0 per cent of the total (we assume they rounded down). By 2013, it was the fifth most commonly tweeted language, accounting for 3.25 per cent of the world’s tweets.

So why are Jakartans so tweet-happy all of a sudden? Here are a few possibilities:

It’s the second largest city in the world.

Neither study on tweet locations adjusted for city size: instead of tweets per resident, they compared raw numbers. Depending on how you define the city limits, Jakarta has a population of somewhere between 10m and 30m; it might be the second largest city in the world; it’s certainly in the top 20. What’s more, half of its residents are under 30. In 2013, 79 per cent of the world’s tweets came from people under the age of 30. Do the maths.

It’s also one of the most densely populated cities in the world.

This is important, but not for the reasons you might expect. When the news broke of Jakara’s Twitter eminence in 2012, an official commented that it was probably because they spend so much time stuck in traffic. In 2010, a city governor even called on residents to tweet traffic news on Twitter, in order to ease congestion in the city. Lots of people in a small area means lots of waiting around, and lots of idle time to spend on your smartphone.

Jakartans “love to chat”.

Budi Putra, ex-editor of Indonesian Yahoo!, says that Twitter is huge in Jakarta because Indonesians love chatting to one another.  He also says many Jakartans use Twitter as a form of messenger, rather than a microblogging platform. This makes it likely that users tweet more often than the average user, as they’re having conversations rather than just airing their thoughts.

Blackberry and Yahoo! messenger are also popular in the city, which seems to back up Putra’s “Jakartans love to chat” thesis.

Tweeting pays.

In 2013, it emerged that Jakartans with over 2,000 followers can be paid upwards of US$21 per tweet to advertise products or events. Confusingly, these sponsored tweeters are called “buzzers”.

The influence of Twitter in Jakarta, and Indonesia as a whole, isn’t lost on those looking for influence.  In the recent presidential elections, one of the two candidates, Prabowo Subianto, had 75 young people running his social media campaign. Turns out, even that wasn’t enough: as of June, he had Twitter 750,000 followers to his opponent Joko Widodo’s 1,600,000. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Widodo (governor of Jakarta and also, incidentally, known for his love of Metallica) took home 53 per cent of the vote.

Joko Widodo: governor; president-elect; king of Twitter. Image: Getty.

Celebrities are taking advantage of Jakartans’ Twitter dominance, too. Agnes Monica, or Agnez Mo, the Indonesian singer and actress, has almost 11 million followers. That’s only a quarter of Lady Gaga’s , but Google trends data shows that Lady Gaga is searched on Google more than than twenty times as often, so Monica is reeling in a bigger following than her popularity would suggest. We can only imagine she’s followed by millions of Jakartans, stuck in traffic and avidly reading her every tweet.

 
 
 
 

There is one good thing to be said for the Beeching Axe

The Alban Way, near Hatfield. Image: Claude Lynch.

In the early 1960s, Harold Macmillan’s government commissioned a report intended to modernise Britain’s railway system, and to make it profitable for the first time in ages. Victorian “railway mania” had generated some of the most impressive railway routes in Europe, but it had come at a cost: early investment in railway infrastructure had grown and grown, even in areas where it was economically unsustainable. The changing transport habits of the post-war period proved the final straw: by 1963, fully half the train stations in the UK only brought in 2 per cent of the revenue, with many routes running almost empty trains at a heavy loss.

This problem, outlined by the report, was not controversial; indeed, it was factual. But it was the solution, proposed by the now infamous Dr Beeching, that proved so radical: closing almost half of the United Kingdom’s railway infrastructure for good. The “Beeching Axe” has been loathed by public transport pundits ever since, with the likes of Lord Andrew Adonis urging for it to be reversed, condemned and, I presume, consigned to the dustbin of history. We’re still dealing with the repercussions of the today.

But the public perception of the Beeching Axe is incomplete. For one, it was written at a time when car ownership was skyrocketing and replacing travel on the railways. Beeching’s recommendations came not only from his presumed visceral hatred for public transport, but also the time in which he was writing.

Moreover, the railway lines that have been reopened since Beeching are those that have seen substantial housing development in the interim. We demonise Beeching because we now understand just how important rail travel is for a sustainable public transport network – but he couldn’t have known the in-and-outs of harmful nitrous oxides or the horrors of the motorway box.

In any case, there were some lines axed by Beeching that are hardly worth resuscitating: railways easily substituted by bus, railways that were single track requiring widening, or railways that have simply deteriorated too much and face costs too high to be worth rejuvenating.

But it’d be a total misstep to write these disused railways off and sell the land back. After all, even if they can’t carry trains, they can still carry people; and what a great windfall that turned out to be. Because we got to replace our extra railway lines with the best cycle paths in the country bar none.

Labelled as “rail trails”, many disused railway lines across the country later became public rights of way. And with sleepers and rails removed, the paths are often extremely straight and have shallow gradients, making them perfect for leisurely cycles or even commutes.


In Hertfordshire, for example, rail trails run between St. Albans and Hatfield, Rickmansworth and Watford, and Harpenden and Hemel Hempstead. They’ve all got fashionable nicknames and, in places, the former infrastructure remains as a homage to the era of railway mania – platforms turned to flower gardens and so forth. Other routes are more bucolic, such as Cornwall’s Camel Trail or the Downs Link between Surrey and Sussex.

All this may sound idyllic, but what are the tangible benefits of these rail trails, as opposed to returning them to their original use? For one, they’re far cheaper than railway infrastructure, both to build and maintain. They also offer easy, direct routes between town centres in parts of the country where segregated cycle paths are otherwise rare (essentially, anywhere outside London). This encourages novices to give cycling a go in a welcoming, safe environment, and encourages commuters to try cycling to work. Moreover, and perhaps most obviously, rail trails provide easy access to a green spaces within urban areas that are quiet, pollution-free and welcome to all.

But there’s still work to be done – many potential “rail trails” are in the administrative doldrums despite the relative ease of their creation. In my home county of Suffolk, there’s a rail trail that runs halfway between Ipswich and Hadleigh, but it abruptly ends: one can only presume that farmers bought up the disused railway land.

Meanwhile, there are council areas where building new cycle infrastructure simply isn’t a priority; road building still holds the sway. Before we can build more rail trails, people need convincing of their benefits. Of course, that’s simply done; just point to the nearest one and give it a go. After all, they’re ubiquitous in some pockets of the UK.

There shouldn’t be a single disused railway line left in this country when the cycle paths they could become provide such an excellent blueprint for new cycling infrastructure. They’re not just a swan song to Victorian railway innovation; rail trails are our chance to approach cycling today with the same zeal and enthusiasm as we did with trains in the age of railway mania. The best is yet to come, and, oddly, it’s all thanks to the venerable Dr. Beeching.