Study: Montana has longest average @-reply tweets

A recent study shows that, on average, @-reply tweets are getting shorter because people are using fewer and shorter words — especially jargon and coined words.

Authors Christian M. Alis and May T. Lim, also broke out the length of tweets geographically across the U.S. and found that states with a higher percentage of African American residents tended to have shorter tweets.

Louisiana had the shortest average @-reply tweets, for example, at 27 characters.

Utterance lengths across US states
Contiguous US states colored with the bootstrapped median utterance length.

Among the data from the U.S., the study showed that, for geo-located tweets, our own state of Montana produced the longest @-reply tweets at an average of 43 characters apiece.

Louisiana had the shortest at an average 27 characters. Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina also had relatively short conversational tweets.

Montana, with its small population of African Americans, had the longest average tweets at 43 characters.

Alis and Lim used Census data and compared this to 229 million tweets gathered from September 2009 to December 2012. However, the subset of those tweets that the authors could map using the tweets’ embedded geo-data was significantly smaller than the total, which could mean their theory about tweet’s length and its connection to race is not solid.

Their explanation for the seeming race connection? Twitter users have broken into sub-groups as the number of users has grown, and these users develop their own language shortcuts. African Americans, the authors say, may “converse more distinctly and more characteristically than other racial groups.” In full:

The observation of geographic variability is not entirely unexpected because of the existence of dialects. What is more surprising is that the utterance length is (anti)correlated with the resident Black population…. A possible explanation is that Blacks converse more distinctly and more characteristically than other racial groups. Since utterances are only weakly correlated with median income and educational attainment then perhaps the shorter utterance lengths is a characteristic of their race–perhaps pointing towards the controversial language of Ebonics

The authors are quick to back down from the mere mention of Ebonics, adding at the end of the paragraph that it is “beyond the scope of this work to look for actual evidence of Ebonics in the tweets.”