Earlier this week, the Atlantic’s CityLab blog noted something fascinating: Almost no American city owns its own name as a Twitter handle. Even ostensibly forward-thinking, tech-savvy municipalities missed the boat. Of the largest cities in the U.S., only Oklahoma City (@OKC and @CityOfOKC) owns the appropriate Twitter username.
Why do so few cities own their formal names on Twitter? It comes as no surprise that very few states do, as BuzzFeed’s Brendan Klinkenberg observes, since there are only 50 states to begin with. But there are lots and lots of cities: Surely some of them were on the ball in the early days of Twitter. Plus, a lot of those cities have variants or nicknames that would work just fine for an official city account.
Indeed, the problem isn’t merely that a city like Dallas doesn’t own @Dallas—that’s understandable, given that “Dallas” is a not-uncommon name for individuals, and the person who holds @Dallas as his username is a fella from San Francisco whose first name is Dallas and who claimed the handle in December 2006, when Twitter was still brand-new and had yet to even have its coming-out party at SXSW 2007.
The City of Dallas didn’t join Twitter until June 2009, at which point most of the obvious handles were long gone: @DFW is a news aggregation account. @DallasTexas is a fella named Jorge who stopped using Twitter after eight tweets (“eating cheddar cheese,” “i am lonley” [sic]) sent the day he registered the account in April 2009. @DallasTX is an account registered in September 2007 that sent three tweets—one a year—before it abandoned Twitter in 2009, despite acquiring over 13,000 followers. Less-desirable usernames like @Dallas_TX and @Dallas_Texas were claimed by a seldom-used travel account and someone who used it for purposes so nefarious it got them suspended by Twitter, respectively, leaving the official account for the City of Dallas at @1500Marilla, a clever invocation of city hall’s address.
This is presumably inconvenient not just for those looking for information from the city of Dallas but also for the fella who owns @Dallas, whose mentions appear to be a mess of people chastising him for bad weather and talking about Dez Bryant.
The situation is only slightly better a couple hundred miles down I-35, where @Austin is, at least, a regularly updated Austin media account operated by Austin.com. @ATX, meanwhile, is SXSW board member Dean Kakridas, who claimed the account in January 2007, claiming the entire city’s nickname as his personal identity. (Kakridas seems to suffer from a lesser version of @Dallas’s own mentions problem, where people randomly tweet at him that they need tortillas and such from time to time.) @AustinTexas is an egg account—that is, an account whose owner never registered a photo, leaving its avatar as the colorful egg that Twitter defaults to for new users—and it has never once sent a single tweet, despite registering for the service in September 2007. @AustinTX is an even more egregious example of someone choosing to identify so strongly with the city in which he lives, and @Austin_TX and @Austin_Texas are both claimed accounts that have one tweet between them.
That leaves the city of Austin tweeting from @AustinTexasGov, which it claimed in May 2009. It’s an unwieldy-but-official-looking compromise, but it at least beats city hall’s address of @301w2ndSt.
Down in South Texas, @SanAntonio is a deals website. @SATX is, quote, “a guy in SA Texas” whose only tweets are “marketing” and “still marketing,” both sent the day he registered the account in August 2008—cryptic but also somehow insightful commentary on Twitter’s most common usage? @SanAntonioTexas is an egg account belonging to a guy named Benny whose intention to use Twitter regularly clearly fell off moments after he registered for the service—he never tweeted—and @SanAntonioTX appears to have been started in 2007 with the intention of being a clearinghouse of San Antonio news but which took nearly two years to send its first tweets, both of which merely describe the updates made to the account regarding its user pictures. The official city government of San Antonio, meanwhile, exists over at @COSAGOV, which is an imposing identity with all those capital letters.
El Paso, meanwhile, has some potential: @ElPaso is a suspended account, which means that the city could potentially lobby Twitter to turn it over to them. (Alternately, the city could use a service like Tweetclaims or TwitterCounter to claim the account name when Twitter releases it back into the ether.) That’d be the ideal solution for a city currently tweeting from @ElPasoTXGov, which is clear but also rather bulky (four words in one Twitter handle is kind of a mess, y’all). Similarly, while users are unable to claim @ElPasoTexas themselves at the moment, it’s a vacant account the city could attempt to grab. Indeed, the level of username squatting or identity-claiming going on in El Paso is relatively slight: there’s a lady who registered @ElPasoTX in March 2009 but who has never used the account.
El Paso lacks the easily recognizable, Twitter-friendly nickname of a @DFW, @ATX, or @SATX, and not only would an official city account never want to claim a racist, offensive nickname like @ElChuco or @ChucoTown, but both of those are already taken anyway.
On the other side of the state, you’ll find Houston tweeting from the absurdly unwieldy @HoustonTexasDotGov, even though both @HoustonTexasGov and @HoustonTXGov were available for anybody to claim at the time of this writing (note: do not register a Twitter account to impersonate Houston’s city government). Why the City of Houston opted to add three characters to its username in a format where every character counts is unknown, and why it was so enamored of the “dot” that it opted to represent it in text at all is equally mysterious.
What’s less mysterious is the story of @Houston (a local weather site) or @HoustonTexas (a spam account), @CityOfHouston (a travel account) or @HTown, @H_Town, @Houston_Texas, or @HTX, all of which are accounts that were registered but never used. Even a less-appropriate-for-city-government nickname like @Screwston was taken back in July 2008 but remains unused. @HoustonTex and @Houston_Tex, meanwhile, are accounts registered to real people who’ve used them at least once, if not actively at the moment.
The farther down the list of Texas cities you go, the more you find that have either been suspended for some rule violation—presumably someone squatting on the username, like @Abilene, @Amarillo, @Arlington, @Beaumont, @Carrollton, @CorpusChristi, @Denton, @FlowerMound, @FortWorth, @GrandPrairie, @Laredo, @McAllen, @McKinney, or @Waco—or are empty-egg accounts. The closest we’ve found to an official Twitter account from a Texas city that actually owns its own name is Round Rock, which for some reason registered @RoundRockNews in June of 2008, even though the avatar image and account bio for @RoundRock suggests that it was registered by someone testing the process of signing up for Twitter the month before (who, hilariously, opted to end the test account’s bio with “Blah blah blah”).
In any case, if you ever need to get ahold of your city on Twitter—to complain about the weather, or the lack of tortillas, or whatever else it is that you want to talk about—we’d advise you to google “[City name] twitter” before you do, to ensure you get the official city account (unless it’s Houston, which for some reason provides @XXXHouston as the first result, which is definitely not the official city account). At the very least, you’ll spare folks like @Dallas, @ATX, and others some grief.