Reports of Twitter’s demise have been greatly exaggerated

Is Twitter in its death throes?

A recent analysis by RJ Metrics shows that the rate of new users has leveled off and includes some eye-opening user statistics:

  • About 80 percent of Twitter’s 75 million user accounts have posted fewer than 10 tweets.
  • 40 percent of the accounts have never sent a tweet.
  • 25 percent of the accounts have no followers.

RJ Metrics downloaded 2 million tweets from 50,000 users for analysis and extrapolated these results from that sample.

A post on Social Media Today contends that Facebook’s addition of a Twitter-like news feed is the cause of this “downturn.” Writer Nick O’Neill predicts that if Facebook were to open up its status-update API, Twitter would not survive.

That analysis, focused on user numbers and posting data, misses the fact that some people use Twitter strictly to follow others. Some users don’t want to say anything; they want a customized feed in an easy-to-read, portable format.

It also skips over the qualitative differences between Twitter and Facebook. Facebook is a personalized Web presence, a defined space where you can post pictures, articles, thoughts, and updates to your friends and family. It’s a place to stay in touch with acquaintances and reconnect with long-lost high-school buddies. Many users keep to a tight circle of friends, avoiding opening their pages to strangers.

Twitter is a freeform flow of news, ideas, links, and aphorisms. Its undefined nature appeals to a different audience than Facebook. People can use the service as a news feed, a stream of jokes, or a networking service.

Yes, many people try Twitter, only to let it fall by the wayside, put off by its 140-character limit and lack of structure. But millions of others remain, captivated by its malleability.

Why are the reports of Twitter’s demise greatly exaggerated?

  • It has proved itself a critical news source. It is the first place many of us saw a picture of a plane in the Hudson River. It is how outsiders can glimpse inside closed places such as Iran. It is where we can publicly express how we are affected by major events.
  • It provides the real-time pulse of the world, as Twitter’s trending topics give us a quick glimpse of conversation in the public sphere.
  • It lowers the wall between the famous and the ordinary. Users can follow everyone from Ashton Kutcher to President Obama, and it’s always possible that a tweet to one of these big shots may elicit a response — or more.
  • It is immediate and mobile. Because Twitter integrates easily with your mobile phone, people can instantaneously post tweets from their current locations.

Status updates and tweets are similar, but they are not the same. They serve different purposes for different audiences. As long as Twitter can figure out a revenue source and keep the capital flowing in, it will remain a viable social medium for years to come.

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