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How Twitter is Changing: A new study reveals Twitter’s new direction

2010 will be forever commemorated as the year Twitter matured from a cool but undecided teenager into a more confident and assertive young adult. While there’s still much room to mature and develop, Twitter’s new direction is crystallizing. With a new look, Dick Costolo as the new CEO, and an oversold new advertising platform, Twitter is growing into something not yet fully identifiable, but formidable nonetheless.

At a minimum, Twitter is an extension of each one of us. It feeds our senses and amplifies our voice. We’re connecting to one another through shared experiences creating a hybrid social network and information exchange tied by emotion and interest. While Twitter provides the technology foundation, it is we who make Twitter so unique and consequential by simply being human and sharing what we see, feel, and think – in Twitter time. It’s both a gift and a harbinger of enlightenment. As new media philosopher, and good friend, Stowe Boyd once said, “It’s our dancing that makes the house rock, not the planks and pipes. It is us that makes Twitter alive, not the code.”

Combining our senses with digital inner monologue is something that we must learn to use wisely . While we may have freedom of Tweet, we are also witnessing that in some cases, common sense is not so common after all.

As there are multiple sides to every story, in this case, Twitter, its users, and the sentiment in between, let’s look at the opposite end of the stream for a moment. Twitter isn’t the only character in this tale to have matured. You, me, and the other 150 million Twitter denizens also changed over the last year. Social media monitoring service Sysomos released new data that highlights just how far we have come between 2009 to 2010.

Let’s start with the population of Twitter. Twitter reportedly attracted more than 100 million users in 2010. While it’s not quite the size of Facebook, which currently serves as the digital residence of 550 million, its impact on media, culture and society is profound.

Social Biography

As Twitter is an extension of your digital identity, users are finding comfort in sharing more about who they are. In 2010, 69 percent shared a bio which is more than double of those who did so in 2009.

Bios are only one part of establishing a digital identity. Whereas with instant messaging services of old, with Twitter, we are encouraged to share our name rather than an alias. The jump here is also profound. 73 percent provide a detailed name or descriptor. Last year, only 33% were as revealing. This is part of the transition from Twitter as a micromessaging or microblogging network to a more personal extension of who we are.

Where in the world are we? On Twitter, 82 percent want you to know. In 2009 however, the number of those who shared their location was only half the size.

If Google “was” the resume of the individual in 2008 and 2009, perhaps Twitter, and also Facebook, are presenting us with a more favorable opportunity to design our online persona. Now 45 percent, up from 22 percent, share a URL in their Twitter profile.

As we can see, privacy is something that’s discussed on the “other” networks…not just Twitter. Here, its natives live in public and do so willingly.

Who are These Tweeple Anyway?

We are what we say. How we describe ourselves says much more about the greater community as well. Twitter’s citizens are expressive, combining emotion and fact as their verbal self portraits. Love. Life. World. Friends. Family.

In 2010, Twitter realized its greatest velocity of growth in its short four-year history. In just one year, 44% of its total population moved in to the micro utopia in the hopes of finding and sharing something missing elsewhere online and IRL.

Who you follow says a lot about us. While many use the follow as a strategy to boost follow-backs, following the right people is also where we can fine tune the signal versus noise in our social stream. As we can see, only .05 percent of the total Twitterverse have more than 10,000 friends and only 2.05 percent connect to more than 1,000. The majority of Tweeps, 95.8 percent, maintain a network of less than 500 friends.

On Twitter, one of the most popular discussions is popularity versus influence. No, influence is not popularity and popularity is not influence. But that doesn’t mean that earning a vast network of followers isn’t a remarkable achievement in and of itself. Only .06 percent of micro socialites on Twitter boast more than 20,000 followers. Again, the trend continues across the network. Still only 2.12 percent have more than 1,000 followers. This leaves the greater population to connect everyone else with 95.9 percent maintaining less than 500 followers. For those who pay attention to influence however, influence is measured by the quality and resonance of a network, not its size.

I always find it so fascinating when the Pareto principle, otherwise known as the 80/20 rule, continues to prove itself over and over again. In Twitter’s egosystem, Of all Twitter users, 22.5 percent post 90 percent of Tweets.

.18 percent have published more than 25,000 Tweets. 2.7 percent have Tweeted more than 5,000 times. Just over 80 percent have either a bit of stage fright or they’re still finding their voice, with only sub 500 Tweets to their avatars to date. After almost four years on the service, I’ve published just over 9,000.

To this day, the friend to follower ratio continues to serve as an important benchmark. I think this is a dying stat as it only encourages us to dilute our streams with updates that don’t improve our Twitter experience. In 2011 and 2012, we will focus on ridding ourselves of the information overload that buried us in email and social networks in the past, concentrating on substance over numbers.

According to Sysomos, the follower-friend ratio is even until users reach about 1,050 followers. After, the numbers skew greater towards followers. The trend continues as followers outpace friends. For example, someone with 5,000 followers usually averages 3,700 friends. As we approach 10,000 followers though, the ratio balances again. Sysomos found that someone with 10,000 followers will most likely maintain an average of 9,600 friends.

Twitter continues to change how we discover, communicate, and share. Each time we do, we reveal a bit more about who we are and what moves us. As we embrace the new year, Twitter’s numbers will expand, but I believe the nature of the service and also how we use it will change significantly.

What do you think? Is this you?

UPDATE: To balance this post a bit, I ran traffic numbers for using Compete and I found something worthy of sharing. It appears that visits to in the U.S. is receding. Between July and October 2010, visits have gradually diminished from a high of roughly 29 million down to 26 million – close to the ~24 million closing out 2009. While many users access Twitter via third-party apps, traffic to the dotcom is a good indicator for potential growth. I should point out however, that globally, earned just over 100 million visitors in October, up 79 percent from 2009.

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101 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “How Twitter is Changing: A new study reveals Twitter’s new direction”

  1. Hi Brian,
    Maybe you biased it too much with your update.
    If you look at the graphic in a full scale (0 to 29M), the variation is not that big. And 26M accesses a month is a respectable number!

  2. Aaron Howard says:

    Brian, nice article on the maturation process happening right NOW.

  3. Great information and certainly food for thought…deep thought…Thanks Brian!

  4. Great information and fascinating numbers….

  5. Great post, we are thinking of using the twitter API to create list of local bars, clubs, pubs, restaurants etc onto our tourism site keeping it and giving it a real-time feel feel. Twitter allows you to be very creative, 140 characters is more than enough….

  6. Rob Saker says:

    Brian – Great stats. One note of caution on the declining traffic for October. I’ve long suspected a shift to mobile and other means of access, but I also believe there’s seasonality at play. Will be interesting to look at stats for Twitter both year over year, as well as spikes for events within a year. Good indicator of activity for other online marketing efforts.

  7. オオキ says:

    Great article, but just one thing. I think you’ve mixed up the numbers on the “Twitter Users With Detailed Name” graph and “Twitter Users With Location” graph.

  8. Robert Bacal says:

    Here’s a thinking exercise for you, Brian. Now, take on the perspective of a “twitter hater”, someone who believes twitter is temporary, and a waste of time, and THEN look and interpret the data from THAT lense. Your article is interesting, but it, like almost all others talking about social media, are interpreting data from within social media, and I think, often draw the wrong conclusions. If I went through your article sentence by sentence, I could probably find at least 20-30 sentences, conclusions and unstated assumptions in your analysis, or which I quite disagree with. Maybe I’ll get back to this later to provide a few examples, if I can.

    • Robert…
      How about Twitter skeptic rather than hater? 🙂

      There are a handful of us who would appreciate your doing what you say you may. Please consider investing the time to take on 3-4 of Brian’s points. If not here, on your blog.

  9. GaryFPatton says:

    Thank you Brian for your original work and wise reposes.

    Thanks also Robert for provoking a great discussion.

    Finally thanks everyone for your helpful comments.

  10. yes, now there are more twitter users who have their URL..

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