Monday 1 December 2008

World city rankings by search engine results

I've been thinking recently a lot about methods we use to rank, count and understand urban areas. This is a topic which the Globalisation and World Cities Group (GaWC) at Loughborough University in the UK have become world leaders in. I also wrote a paper about this some time ago and I'm still interested in it more generally but not so much from an academic research point of view these days. However, I was reminded about a paper which I referred to in the SGJ article mentioned above - a paper written by the aptly named Florian Urban. He looked at the representation of cities on the internet in his 2002 paper from the perspective of place marketing and representation. However, I wondered recently what outcome you would get if you simply entered city names into google (I did try others but google seems to return more results than all others). Not surprisingly, the results match those which are typically published and based on much more complex analyses...[read the caveats below too]

  1. New York = 827m ("new york city" returns only about 102m)
  2. London = 539m
  3. Paris = 597m
  4. Tokyo = 142m in English, plus 427m for 東京 for a total of 569m
  5. Hong Kong = 246m in English, plus 290m for 香港 for a total of 536m
  6. Los Angeles = 267m (quotes or not, doesn't seem to make much difference)
  7. Singapore = 221m
  8. Chicago = 337m
  9. Seoul = 35.5m
  10. Toronto = 157m
Caveats... New York could be the city or state, Seoul has some name issues that mean even if you use the simplified Chinese characters to seach the indexed pages result doesn't increase much, there is a massive English speaking bias here too (but then that reflects the real world to an extent). Also, the extent to which the web is US-centric comes out here. For comparison, Beijing/北京 returns (105+555 =) 660m. You'll also get different results day to day, with a general trend of increase.

Okay, so these results are not at all scientific, but they do quite closely match the kinds of rankings you see in the academic, popular and web press. What about cities in the UK? Well, we have Manchester at 139m ( swelled by football references?), Birmingham at 85m, Glasgow at 58m, Edinburgh at 53m, Leeds at 46m, Sheffield at 39m and Inverness at 14m. No doubt there's a lot of noise in these results but again it mirrors other ways of measuring.

In my work, I'm much more interested in the places far lower down the urban 'hierarchy' and not so much in rankings but it's interesting to see how this little exercise has turned out.