How Overhyped is Twitter?

It’s difficult to read the writings of Future of News High Priests without coming across fawning pieces about Twitter. But now HubSpot has released its State of the Twittershpere report for Q4 2008, and it contained some interesting facts about Twitter users. Many of these facts can make it look like Twitter is on the cusp of an explosion in popularity – 70% of users joined in 2008 and 5 to 10,000 new accounts are opened each day.

On ReadWriteWeb, however, Marshall Kirkpatrick takes a slightly different view of the numbers when he compares Twitter to Facebook.

HubSpot estimates that Twitter has 4 to 5 million users, 30% of which are ‘brand new or unengaged.’ They estimate that Twitter sees between five and ten thousand new accounts opened each day. That’s a nice number, but it’s far below, for example, Facebook’s astonishing 600k daily registrations and 140 million active users. Twitter is a fascinating little phenomenon – Facebook is mainstream.

Why is this important for users? Because most of the people you might really enjoy connecting with on Twitter are unlikely to ever use it. They are busy using Facebook instead.

Perhaps his most attention grabbing statement is this:

If Facebook stopped growing right now and Twitter’s numbers were at the upper end of Hubspot’s estimates (10k per day) – it would take 36 years for Twitter to catch up. [(135,000,000 more Facebook users / 10,000 new Twitter users per day) / 365 days per year = just about 37 years]

I’ve argued before that for news, Twitter is a feature, not a future. We can’t get caught up in Twitter the product, rather we need to understand what it accomplishes and apply that to news reporting. Twitter provides immediacy and first person accounts, and that is what news organizations must bring to their audiences, whether it’s through Twitter or not.  In fact, Twitter has plenty of problems itself separating the wheat from the chaff.  The white noise, and even worse, the black noise, can be overwhelming. Yes, Twitter is a great tool for news reporting, but those high priests who focus on it and other tools as some kind of salvation do as much harm to the future of news as those clueless executives they rail against for not “getting it.” Twitter – great app, must learn to use it well, teaches the importance of immediacy and first-person accounts.  Now, move on to figuring out that revenue model.

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