Posted on May 28, 2008
Filed Under Web 2.0 Kool Aid |

It’s the darling of the blogosphere. It’s the subject of debate. And to its investors, it’s .

I’m talking, of course about Twitter - the Web 2.0 service that probably gets as much love (and hate) as any other technology startup today.

My feelings about Twitter are no secret. In short, I think it’s unremarkable, practically useless and will never realistically go mainstream.

But putting my beliefs aside, I don’t think it takes more than a simple analysis of “Twitter by the numbers” to add a dose of perspective to all of the Twitter hype.

tracks activity on Twitter and displays a list of the Top 100 twits (or twats as I would more accurately describe some of them) based on the number of followers they have.

Being the “late adopter” that I am, I just came across Twitterholic this week and found the statistics on it to be quite interesting.


I draw the following obvious, common sense conclusions from this:

While looking at the most popular twats is a worthwhile exercise, this high-level analysis isn’t complete unless important macro-level data is incorporated.

, Twitter ranks 439th amongst social networks and forums. While recent growth has been impressive, Hitwise’s Heather Hopkins notes that the service is “still niche.”

Out of courtesy, I’ll admit that for a service like Twitter, traffic alone isn’t a fair measurement. Unfortunately, a deeper look only better evidences the fact that Twitter is less important to the world than .

, an anonymous source close to Twitter indicates that, as of March 2008, the service had more than 1 million registered twats, 200,000 active twats per week and was handling 3 million tweets each day.

To put this in context, consider that way back in February 2006 69 million people in the United States and 82 million people in Europe used an instant messaging program to communicate.

1.9 trillion SMS messages were sent globally in 2007 and , approximately 17 billion SMS messages were sent in China alone during the past Chinese New Year.

Obviously, comparing the total number of people using IM and the total number of SMS messages being sent to Twitter’s usage is not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, but the comparison does serve a valid purpose.

It highlights the fact that Twitter, by any reasonable measure, is far from the revolutionary communications tool that seem to think it is.

I could be dead wrong in saying that Twitter will never go mainstream but one thing is clear: it has a long way to go before it catches up to “antiquated” communications tools like IM and SMS.

Unfortunately, Twitter’s lack of diversity and the fact that there’s little indication that it’s gaining much traction of note outside of the circle jerk that is the technology/blogosphere/Web 2.0 community does not bode well for Twitter’s mainstream prospects anytime soon.

For now, Twitter will have to be satisfied with $15 million in funding and the knowledge that it’s like a virtual version of The Biggest Loser, except for the fact that the twats who win don’t lose weight - they lose time that is probably better spent elsewhere.

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9 Responses to “Putting Twitter in Perspective - By the Numbers”

  1. S Neil Vineberg on May 28th, 2008 1:05 pm

    A welcome reality check.

  2. on May 28th, 2008 3:29 pm

    You really don’t get twitter. Which is ok, because not everyone has to.

    For most people who use it, it isn’t a publishing medium, it is a way to communicate with (and keep up with) friends (or people/news sources they are interested in).

    You are comparing apples and oranges. Obama could have many more followers on twitter if the campaign used it better. And it could make an even greater impact if local Obama groups used it as part of organizing (assuming it will get more stable).

    And most news organizations haven’t used it very well, simply using it to repurpose other content rather than taking advantage of what twitter can do.

    NASA actually gets it better than most news organizations and they are quickly up to 8600 followers for the Mars mission

    And followers isn’t the only metric since people can subscribe to an RSS feed or look at the webpage, or find updates through searches.

    No twitter (and other similar services that exist now or will be created in the future) probably won’t be as widely used as IM or SMS (though there were certainly people who thought they would not go mainstream when they first launched - same with blogs), but it will grow and be used in ways we can’t even imagine now.

    If you actually look beyond sites like twitterholic, you’ll see a lot of people who aren’t part of the technology industry/blogosphere/Web 2.0 are using it. And they aren’t focused on how many followers they have. All they care about is if some of their friends are using it.

  3. Drama 2.0 on May 28th, 2008 3:45 pm

    Steve: forgetting the fact that I much prefer to “keep up” with my friends via personal, meaningful interactions, the point is that regardles of what you think about Twitter, the numbers don’t lie.

    What they indicate is very simple: Twitter is not a “revolutionary” communications medium and the hype it has received by a relatively small group of “first adopter” types far exceeds its practical impact in the real world.

    There’s no indication that this is set to change in the immediate/foreseeable future.

    That is all. When the technology geeks stop calling Toyotas Ferraris, I’ll stop calling them hypesters and idiots.

  4. Ramine on May 28th, 2008 4:35 pm


  5. Bill Gates on May 28th, 2008 6:31 pm

    I should incorporate all the Twitter features into my IM and destroy them overnight.

  6. jay on May 29th, 2008 5:00 am

    Twittering is the Web 2.0 twisted word for Time Wasting. Notice how AJAX mutilates the brutality of reality?

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