Democracy in Canada 2.0 – Twitter

I my first article in my series Canada 2.0 I introduced the idea that social media technologies, Internet 2.0 or social media, are beginning to reach a critical mass in Canada that can enable a transformation of our democracy and society as a whole. Those who want to take part and shape this future need to understand what is happening and how to take part. Twitter gets a lot of coverage in the media as the current 'in' thing. And its impact in the Iran elections and Barack Obama's victory in the US cannot be dismissed. But there is one thing that pundits and commentators often miss when applying this to Canada. No one in Canada is on Twitter. Well, statistically almost no one.

Unlike FaceBook, which has around 14 million Canadian users, thats about 42% of the total Canadian population, twitter has a measly 1% pop covereage. This means that everything Canadians say on twitter is bound to be drowned out by their American and even British peers. Canadian Twitter accounts make up about 5% of Twitter. When something shows up as a trend on twitter (which means its one of the top 10 most popular phrases showing up in all current 140 character messages on Twitter) it pretty much means a lot of Americans are talking about that topic.

But if you look at stats at politwitter.ca, which aggregates Canadian political discussion on Twitter, you'll see that there are tens of thousands of active Canadians tweeting about politics and following national leaders. That's not nothing.

A Canadian Voice


So what about little 'ol us? Last week there were huge national protests and everyone I know was tweeting about it with common tags #noprorogue #CAPP and #cdnpoli.
Some part of me hoped, that just for an hour one of those words would show up on the venerated trending topics list. But it was not to be. Then I looked into it a bit and found the stunning 1%. Add to that the fact that many people register for twitter, don't get it, and never use it again, so 1% is probably high. Twitter is not as easy to 'get' as FaceBook. It doesn't seem useful to jabber on in short bytes with people you don't know. But sometimes it can be really powerful. FaceBook is much easier for everyone to udnerstand, you link up with freinds from the real world, chat, play games and generally just keep up to date with their life.

So why is this knowledge important for activities in Canada trying to gain awareness for their cause and rally people and media attention? Its important because the media doesn't know this, or is too enamored of simple stories to use this information properly. If the reporters and pundits see something trending on Twitter, they'll see a big thing, Twitter is big right? That's a story. So how does that help? Well...

Twitter just recently, this week, added a new feature to their website that lets you view trending topics by region. Now, if people can choose to view trends from several countries or large cities. Canada is one of the countries although no Canadian cities are present yet. Right now the trends look pretty much the same as the Worldwide trends except for the presence of the word 'Canadian' and 'Tim Hortons'. Since Canada is such a small group of users (hundreds of thousands rather than millions) that means that getting topics to trend in the Canada view should be much easier than in the default Worldwide view. But for this to happen, Canadians need to add location information so that Twitter knows they are in Canada. I suspect the trends are the same now because most Canadians haven't put their location down, this may even explain the 1% being so low. Well it turns out now that it really is useful to tell Twitter that you at least live in Canada, even if you don't want to give more info. This way we can all use the Canada trending topics view to find out what Canadians are really talking about rather than continuing to listen in to our neighours to the south. We've listend to them long enough, I think we know what they're talking about by now.

Instructions on Setting your location in Twitter:

  1. go to Twitter.com and sign in

  2. Click Settings at the top right

  3. You will be on the Account tab, go down to Location and enter Canada

  4. Go the bottom of the page and click save


That's it. Now if you click "Change" under the trending header on the right hand side you can pick the country or city you want to view and your tweets should be included.

Can't wait to see what we're talkin aboot.