Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

The Four Tiers of Twitter Users: Tweeters, Voyeurs, Readers and the Uncounted Masses

Twitter for the first time today offered measurements of how many people actively use its product and how those numbers are growing.

What emerged is a view of Twitter usage that is more nuanced than a social network, where it’s clear what being a “user” means, or a media site, where it’s obvious who is the content creator and who is the content consumer.

After a very long time of withholding active user numbers, Twitter disclosed that 100 million people log into its service at least once per month and 400 million people visited its Web site in the past month.

But there’s still a massive amount of Twitter activity that goes uncounted, both through widgets and clients built on the Twitter API and through mass distribution of tweets in other news media like television.

Here’s my attempt at describing those users:

The Tweeters: Some 60 million registered Twitter users have logged in at least once in the last month and tweeted. That includes real people, corporate accounts, parody accounts, group accounts and bots.

Active tweeters generate 230 million tweets a day, up 110 percent from the beginning of the year.

The Voyeurs: An additional 40 million people have gone to the trouble of logging into Twitter in the last month but haven’t composed anything themselves. These are often people who find value in getting a real-time and more personal perspective on sports stars, celebrities and other news makers. Twitter said today that 75 percent of NBA players and 85 percent of U.S. senators have Twitter accounts.

In a way, curating other Twitter users is a form of content creation, as Jeffrey Kalmikoff, VP of product at SimpleGeo, pointed out to me on Twitter. This may be increasingly true with new Twitter activity stream tools, where users can more easily see which accounts their contacts are following and which tweets they are favoriting.

Twitter lumped its logged-in active users together for some of the growth stats. Active users are up 82 percent since January 1 to 100 million. That’s up from just 26 million at the end of 2009.

Half of that 100 million logs in every single day, up 105 percent since the beginning of this year. Fifty-five percent of active users are mobile users.

The Readers: Another way to measure Twitter users is to go to Google Analytics, which says 400 million people have visited in the past month. That number is mostly inclusive of the 100 million in the past two categories (though some active users might use only Twitter mobile or desktop clients).

Visitors to can view almost all Twitter content without logging in, and there are many people who drop by on a tweet-by-tweet basis or go directly to the pages of tweeters they are interested in.

Twitter said its monthly visitor count has grown 70 percent since the beginning of the year.

The Uncounted Masses: Many, many more people read tweets than visit, but it’s hard to measure them. Twitter offers its own clients for various platforms and other developers make them too. There are also lots more tweets displayed using applications built with the Twitter API — for instance, a tweet widget on a news site might show the latest messages from its writers, or a stream of tweets could be displayed at an event using a common hashtag.

Beyond that, tweets are an excellent source of breaking news and popular sentiment, so they’re syndicated all over the place. I dare you to watch an hour of television news without hearing a mention of the latest on Twitter.

Twitter doesn’t even seem to be attempting to measure this number, though it would be nice to see the company take a stab at it by asking API users to report back user numbers or maybe even assigning an intern to watch for tweets on TV.

Twitter in the past had offered a dramatically unhelpful metric: The number of people (hundreds of millions, at this point) who had ever registered for an account. Not only does that not include people who view Twitter content while logged out, it also ignores the many dormant accounts that are bound to accumulate on a five-year-old service.

So altogether, the balance of Twitter activity tilts toward people consuming content — which could be a very good thing for Twitter to emphasize. Twitter sales marketing director Shane Steele pointed out after Costolo’s address that what advertisers care about is the potential reach of their content, not how many people are creating tweets. These tiers of public usage make Twitter’s business much different from social networks like Facebook and Google+, where much of users’ activity is personal and private.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik