More reasons to be cautious about Twitter

I’ve warmed to Twitter over the past few weeks, mostly because I downloaded TweetDeck. This handy app allows me to parse through my feeds a more efficiently, and minimizes my frustration at Twitter’s ability to flood you with ephemera. But I still think people are way, way too excited about the utility of this social medium.

I’ve posted before on research that shows Twitter is male-dominated, and features a small number of users who account for the vast majority of Tweets. And now, here’s a handy info-graphic that underscores this point nicely:

twitteruse

In other words, 20 per cent of accounts are inactive, half of the accounts are seldom used, and only five per cent of users have more than 100 followers.  But more problematic is the fact that five per cent of users now account for 75 per cent of the tweets. So, in some crucial respects, Twitter is less of a community and more of a channel for individuals who are already “popular” offline, or users who have been successful in using Twitter to create a one-way network.

This is not to say Twitter is not useful, or that this imbalance won’t correct itself over time. However, we should be wary of techno-evangelists who call Twitter a “game-changer” or hypothesize that it will change journalism. Let’s not forget- the most vocal proponents of Twitter are also it’s most active users, a perspective that distorts their assessment of the network’s social performance. When you break it down, only about 10 per cent of Twitter (probably less, since I’m likely double-counting across categories) represents anything close to an engaged community. That’s only 500,000 people. Not insignificant, but certainly not the sea-change people make it out to be.

Via Gizmodo.

5 comments

  1. Mike Beltzner

    I’m not sure that the over 100 followers metric is relevant; Twitter wasn’t invented to be a marketing or broad communication mechanism (though certain niche organizations, cewebrities and celebrities have used it that way to great effect) but rather as a way to keep your friends up to date with where you are and what you’re doing. Social studies have shown that social circles generally range in the sub-100 numbers, so I’d actually expect most Twitter users to have fewer than 100 followers. (More interesting to me, actually, would be the number of people most Twitter users follow.)

    Of course, I agree with you that the media seems to have found Twitter, the cewebrities and the celebrities and is now making a huge amount of hay about how it will change the universe and make ice cream that never goes melty. None of this is true, though it is a nice way to keep in touch with what other people are doing.

  2. Karen

    I have under 100 followers because I keep my feed private, yet I have tweeted 2633 times since…January, I think? I’d consider myself sub-100 and engaged.

  3. graeme

    Sorry, I don’t think I was clear. I think you can engage within a friend network meaningfully below the 100 follower threshold. But I’m looking at the macro level, with how information flows through the entire network. If it’s truly a forum for “new journalism” and “community building”, then it would need to be very different than it is now.

    Mike, you’re quite correct- it is useful for communicating with friends. I just don’t believe (as you don’t) that it represents some watershed in online communication.

  4. Paul D

    Bill Simmons has said this, and I think it might be true, that twitter’s not really a social network, but more for breaking news, etc. It’s worked that way for sports anyways. I wouldn’t be investing in Twitter though

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