Twitter: top-down, male-dominated social media

A new study by the Harvard Business Review reveals some surprising (or maybe not) insights about everyone’s favourite over-hyped, potentially useless social media network, Twitter. Unlike almost every other social network, Twitter is dominated by a small cabal of self-absorbed men. This makes Twitter a lot more like, say, politics and professional sports than Facebook or Wikipedia.

The numbers are pretty illuminating. On other social network sites, the vast majority of activity is focused around women. Men follow content created by females they do and do not know, while women follow the content of other women they know personally. But on Twitter, the reality is very different:

We found that an average man is almost twice more likely to follow another man than a woman. Similarly, an average woman is 25% more likely to follow a man than a woman. Finally, an average man is 40% more likely to be followed by another man than by a woman. These results cannot be explained by different tweeting activity – both men and women tweet at the same rate.

But the really surprising thing is the dynamics of Twitter content creation:

At the same time there is a small contingent of users who are very active. Specifically, the top 10% of prolific Twitter users accounted for over 90% of tweets. On a typical online social network, the top 10% of users account for 30% of all production. To put Twitter in perspective, consider an unlikely analogue – Wikipedia. There, the top 15% of the most prolific editors account for 90% of Wikipedia’s edits ii. In other words, the pattern of contributions on Twitter is more concentrated among the few top users than is the case on Wikipedia, even though Wikipedia is clearly not a communications tool. This implies that Twitter’s resembles more of a one-way, one-to-many publishing service more than a two-way, peer-to-peer communication network.

But the really crazy thing is that the median number of lifetime post for Twitter users is one. ONE. That means that over half of people with Twitter accounts tweet less than once every 74 days.

So what does this all mean? Well, for starters, that Twitter is not a social network site at all. It’s most obvious analogue is stand-alone blogging, but with vastly diminished control over length, structure and form. And since such a small number of users, of a specific gender, create so much content, you’ve got to wonder if Twitter is little more than a marketing tool for high-powered users with established web identities. And what will that mean if Twitter decides to adopt some sort of a business model and move towards some sort of a pay-per-service model?

I’ve expressed some concern over the utility of Twitter in the past (full disclosure: I am, and will likely to continue to be, a Twitter user). Clearly more research is needed here, but this new info makes me even more concerned about the role it will play in the evolution of Web 2.0.

  • sjc

    Very interesting – but I wonder where they got the gender statistics? I don’t use twitter for the reasons you outline above. Also, I wonder how many young women don’t tweet due to safety concerns?

  • Matej

    Despite your disclosure, I find it ironic that I found out about this post through your Twitter account.

  • http://www.nuncscio.com graeme

    “…you’ve got to wonder if Twitter is little more than a marketing tool for high-powered users with established web identities.”

    The prophecy has been fulfilled! Except for possibly the high-powered part.

  • Paul

    I think of Twitter as “micro-blogging” where I can give one snippet of witty insight and link to an article I like or dislike (often from here). It allows me to keep blogging and throwing my baseless opinion into the cybershpere, without having to create and maintain a full blog.

    Just my two cents.

  • http://challengingthecommonplace.blogspot.com/ Chrystal Ocean

    This woman loves Twitter. Have only been using it with any regularity for about six weeks. It’s a great tool for campaigning, getting word out on issues you think important, increasing the exposure of one’s blog, meeting new people….

  • rock

    what this shows is that twitter reflects similar characteristics to mainstream, traditional media without necessarily a formal political economic structure directing it. Fascinating. Social communication, in a completely unplanned manner, creates a system that resembles the worst of the old-style media.

  • Chris

    Hmmm – strange “male-dominated social media” not sure what that means. I see more women using twitter and using it as a 2-way conversation, however, men just use it for one-way, which should not surprise anyone – we all know men like to hear their own voices, especially those who think themselves “experts” or “marketers”

    I personally have made some great contacts through twitter and have even gotten business – could this be because I understand twitter is about tw0-way conversation?

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