Is Twitter’s star finally losing its twinkle?

It’s pretty fair to say that 2009 was “The Year of the Tweet”. There’s hardly a TV or Radio show or media personality that doesnt have a twitter account. In some cases there are several, with excellent spoofing of some ‘slebs too. In 2009 Twitter users went from five to thirty million users and between 2008 and 2009 it grew by a staggering 1300%. With meteoric growth like that it’s only natural there will be a period of normalisation, the real key to enduring as a service – if that’s what Twitter could be called, I think it’s what describes it best but others seem to infuriatingly want to call it a site – is how this slowing of growth is handled. The graph below shows this plateau over the last year.

I’ve been lucky to speak to, and be spoken to by, several Twitter staffers over the course of the past year and what best characterises them is, apart from all being incredibly smart, the way they seemed to be focussed with keeping the service live in the face of such immense growth. They also have a surprisingly small staff in comparison to other Social Media behemoths. Twitter suffered several major outages over the last year where the service fell over due to volume and the concentration seemed to be, more or less, making it more robust.

As the year went on Twitter also began to roll out a selection of new features like lists and a revamped retweet feature which, whilst not placing significant load on the service, certainly improved and matured the user experience. It’s also perhaps a sign of the fact that these incredibly talented people had finally been let loose on improving and developing the service rather than just plain coping with the demands placed on them by this exponential growth.
But that said, are all these reports of Twitter’s growth slowing actually accurate? Neilsen certainly think so, claiming that Twitter is suffering from a deficit of user retention, with 40% of Tweeters coming back the next month after joining, as opposed to 60% with Facebook and MySpace.  Twitter, of course, works very differently from anything of its size that has gone before. Facebook and MySpace have also both constructed a product where 99.999% of the interaction takes place on the site. This makes sense on a number of levels, not least advertising where you can serve incredibly well targeted ads to users based on the detailed information held, but the major drawback is that you have to develop software and capacity on a “one size fits all” basis.

The beauty with Twitter of course is that there are a million and one ways to use it over a million and one platforms. None of which are “owned” by Twitter. This multiplicity of platform is a key difference, not only in keeping a smaller more agile development staff, but also to measurement. It’s actually much, much harder to measure Twitter’s usage because of it. See that graph above? Pointless. I’ve done a count of my follower list and – right up to the point where my eyes crossed – I counted about 5% of tweets that actually came “from web”, that is to say directly from the Twitter site itself. The truth is only Twitter know the full story of their usage. But, much like Facebook, reports of Twitter’s demise are way off of the mark.

Anyway,  Hubspot’s “State of the Twittersphere Report – January 2010” posits some quite interesting theories about Twitter and its direction of travel. For those of you who are time poor here’s what they had to say, more or less:

  1. Users are following more, are being followed more and Tweeting more. (Does this look like a drop off to you?)
  2. Biographical information in profiles stood at 24% in July 2009, up to 53% in January 2010
  3. Location information in Profiles stod at 31% in July 2009, rose to 65% in January 2010
  4. URLs in Profiles were around 20% in July 2009, up to 41% in January 2010
  5. 15% of the top 20 Twitter locations in July 2009 were outside America compared to 40% of the top 20 Twitter locations in January 2010 outside America.
  6. Top location in July 2009 – London and still No. 1 in 2010
  7. 82% of Twitter users have less than 100 followers
  8. 81% of Twitter users are following less than 100 people
  9. Thursday and Friday are the most active days on Twitter, each accounting for 16% of total tweets in our study
  10. 10-11 pm is the most active hour on Twitter, accounting for 4.8% of the tweets in an average day