investigating the nature of fact in the digital age

Twitter isn’t about to fall from its perch

In Previously published on April 9, 2013 at 11:42 am

First published in The Age, February 9, 2010

For original story click here



HANDS up if you have a Twitter account but rarely use it. Or don’t use it at all.

Congratulations, you’re part of the significant percentage of the 75 million people who have signed up for the service but barely give it a passing thought.

Roughly two-fifths of Twitter accounts have never sent a tweet, according to analysis by RJ Metrics, and a quarter of those signed up have no followers. Further, 80 per cent of all Twitter users have tweeted fewer than 10 times and only 17 per cent — not quite one-fifth — tweeted in December.

Seen in isolation, these are sobering numbers for fans of the micro-blogging platform. But numbers can be misleading. In fact, this decline is good news indeed.

Twitter took the world by storm this time last year, boosted by enormous mainstream media exposure for being the first outlet to report the crash of US Airways flight 1549 into New York’s Hudson River and by the trend for celebrities to talk about it every chance they got.

After the boom came the bust: from an adoption rate high of 13 per cent (per month) last March, Twitter’s growth has slowed to about 3.5 per cent today.

Has it peaked? Possibly. It will, eventually. It must. Like any time-hungry activity, when intention and attention meet the time constraints of reality, something has to give. (Like gym membership.) This is the way of fads.

The same is true of Facebook. How many Facebooks users — the nearly 400 million people around the world who have posted pictures of the family, sent messages asking people to be a friend and accepted requests from others to be their friend — are still active daily users?

My guess is many members would return to their Facebook wall today after a long absence to find litter gusting around the sneakers of a couple of kids going hell for leather with their spray cans. LOL. Word.

The interesting question for Twitter is how it settles into its niche function, its point of equilibrium — or whether it is pushed aside by some new micro-blogging platform.

(There’s a theory that charts this. Look up Gartner’s Hype Cycles for Emerging Technologies report, which tracks the life of new technologies as they hit the public eye.)

Significantly, the RJ Metrics data also suggest that even if few people tweet, those who do are doing more of it. And the average number of followers is rising.

So while there may be fewer people active on Twitter than the number of account holders suggests, it is also clear those who use it are using it more intensively. This is backed up by a finding by social media monitoring company Sysomos that the most committed 5 per cent of Twitter users account for 75 per cent of tweets.

This suggests the platform is moving towards the few-to-many model that typifies all other information media. Think about television, newspapers, radio, blogging: the audience is always considerably greater than the number of producers of the content being consumed.
To be surprised that very few people tweet and that most have few followers is the same as being surprised that most people don’t have their own radio show or newspaper column. The majority of Twitter account holders who never tweet and have few followers are the equivalent of other media’s silent audience.

This is where Twitter is heading. Once the short-term trend-followers and the rubber-neckers disappear, once the loudmouth online hawkers see their message is being ignored and drift to the next money-spinning opportunity, Twitter will settle into a useful everyday sifter and disseminator of online information. It will become the filter of choice of those who want to be fed media, technology, business and political news.

In the meantime, treat reports of Twitter’s death with caution.

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