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Twitter is not a social network, at least that is what a group of four researchers from Yahoo Research believe, in a paper presented at the International World Wide Web Conference in Hyderabad, India in 2011.

Here is a brief summary of their findings:

Approximately 50% of the URLs consumed on Twitter are distributed by just 20,000 elite Twitter users, during a nine month period from July 2009 to March 2010.

Categories of elite users tend to follow within their categories rather than between categories. Bloggers tended to follow other bloggers, celebrities tended to follow other celebrities, media tended to follow other media.  Organizations tended to pay more attention to bloggers, and their attention is more evenly shared between various types of users.

Almost half of the information disseminated is done so through almost 500,000  “intermediaries”, users who either retweet, reply or repost URLs   Ninety-nine per cent of intermediaries are “ordinary” users. However the most followed intermediaries were “elite” users.

The top ten thousand ordinary users accounted for only 5% of attention.

Bloggers content tends to have a longer lifespan, being reintroduced and retweeted often months after the first introduction, while news and media tweets have the shortest life span.

The researchers conclusions?

Attention remains highly concentrated with less than 1% of the users accounting for 50% of the attention, that users tend to follow those like themselves and that there is a “two-step” process of dissemination for communication flows.

The research is consistent with my own experience of Twitter.  I love Twitter, but it isn’t a an exchange media, it is a modern broadcast media.  I follow experts across my areas of interest. Every now and then, something catches my eye, and I click the link and read the article.

I rarely engage in meaningful dialogue, because 140 characters make it very hard to have a respectful, deep conversation about a topic more complex than whether I’m at Starbucks enjoying a Frappuccino. I recently wrote a post “Leaders are Born, Not Made“. A follower tweeted that he “couldn’t disagree more”. This could easily have slid into a “flame war”, but fortunately it didn’t.We eventually realized that we both held the same opinion, so all was good.

Have you ever tried to follow a debate or exchange between two people on twitter? It’s often difficult to make sense of the thread. This makes it difficult to join in on the discussion. It’s also very difficult to follow the logic of the exchange. Thus, I tend not to use Twitter for exchange, but rather for dissemination of information.

I love Twitter. But it is not a Social Network. Follow me @ColleenSharen.

Source: Wu, Shaomei, Hofman, Jake, Mason, Winter, and Watts, Duncan. “Who Says What to Whom on Twitter”. Presented at the International World Wide Conference 2011. March 28 – April 1, 2011. Hyderabad, India.  Sourced on the internet February 17, 2012: http://research.yahoo.com/node/3386

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7 thoughts on “Twitter is not a Social Network

  1. To me it feels like social media when used by an existing ‘community of practice’ as a way to link far-flung nodes (Um, I mean friends…) that have a shared skill or passion. I use it in this way, as well as a ‘follow-the-guru’ tool.

    However key to using Twitter as social media is to also blog, Google+ or otherwise unpack the tweets. Tweets themselves are best used as signposts to deeper content.

    (Aside from my own tweets of course. Which are profound and meaningful unto themselves. :) )

  2. I find it very hard to be profound in 140 characters. But, as a university professor, I tend to be long winded!

    One of my students is writing a paper on using Twitter a a method to develop leader credibility with followers. She’s found some interesting research on Twitter and credibility. I might have her guest blog when she’s done.

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