July 9th, 2012
02:15 PM ET
By Dan Merica, CNN
(CNN) – In an effort to look at cultural differences across the United States, a data analysis company selected two words that it felt exemplified an American cultural divide and analyzed their usage on Twitter.
The words: “beer” and “church.”
And according to the study by Floatingsheep.org, Americans tweet more about church than beer, and there is a distinct regional divide between the tweets.
Church tweets were most common in the Southeast United States, while tweets about beer were most prevalent in the Northeast.
“We found out that there is a geography to what people tweet about, and there are some geographic differences to Twitter,” said Dr. Matthew Zook, a geography professor at the University of Kentucky and co-founder of Floating Sheep. “You have these offline cultural differences that are being replicated in information space like Twitter.”
The group went through roughly 10 million geotagged tweets from June 22 to June 29 and found that 17,686 tweets were sent with the word “church,” while 14,405 tweets were sent containing the word “beer.”
Zook and his group selected the words because they believed religion and drinking have rich differences.
“We have been doing this for a while, and we have a set of favorite words that really capture regional differences,” Zook said.
According to the report, which was first reported by Britain's Guardian newspaper, San Francisco was the most beer-focused city in the country, while Dallas was the most focused on church.
“San Francisco has the largest margin in favor of ‘beer’ tweets (191 compared to 46 for ‘church’) with Boston (Suffolk County) running a close second,” the report says. “In contrast, Dallas, Texas wins the FloatingSheep award for most geotagged tweets about ‘church’ with 178 compared to only 83 about ‘beer.’ ”
The study also found that “counties with high numbers of church tweets are surrounded by counties with similar patterns and ... counties with many beer tweets are surrounded by like-tweeting counties.”
The social networking site Twitter allows users to note or highlight their locations with a service called geotagging, which utilizes the GPS feature on mobile phones or computers to precisely determine the location. Though the report cautions that geotagged tweets are rare on Twitter – they account for only 1% to 3% of tweets – that small percentage yields a large number of tweets to use, the analysts say.
The results of the "church or beer "study validate past studies by Floatingsheep.org, the analysts say.
In 2010, the group found that there is a larger than normal concentration of bars in the Northeast United States.
And in 2009, a study titled “The Virtual ‘Bible Belt’” found a larger than normal concentration of churches in the American South and Midwest, especially compared with the Northeast United States.
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