Twitter is now reporting that 50 million tweets bleep through the grid every single day. It’s a staggering number, 600 per second, of which “approximately 83 tweets per second contain product or brand references (20%)” according to coverage in Readwriteweb. Alongside metrics reported for Facebook (60 million status updates per day) and Youtube (1 billion videos per day) I’m inclined to run for cover in anticipation of some great resounding social sonic boom.
No need to do that however as the metricians have yet to find proof that there is a social equivalent of the sound barrier out there to warn us of. Be that as it may, social media giants Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and Google Buzz likely enjoy the race for traffic growth more than they know what they would do if we ever gave them a finish line. Boom! More likely the sound of a starting gun in our case than some barrier up in the sky the other side of which lie demons in waiting. The envelope these guys are pushing is no sound barrier but contains instead the big paycheck (and for the true type-A venture guy, the big payback).
Fifty million tweets a day would knock you on your ass if you were at the receiving end of that firehose. But you are! And so am I. But I, like you, am as likely tweeting myself or if not possibly sitting here like a monkey with my fingers in my ears, hands over my eyes, and then over my mouth. In the time that I’ve been writing this, and since my last tweet exactly 20 minutes ago, 720,000 tweets have blown by me and I didn’t catch a single one of them.
I’m like the guy in the Memorex ad seated in some high-veneered-class black leather and chrome Corbu lounger dressed in Ray Bans and with my tie laid out behind me like a wind sock perched at the back end of some Nasa Ames wind tunnel test of the tweet resistance properties of social media power users.
And the tag-line, or the alt-tag, or the tag cloud reads: “Is it live or is it Realtime?”
If I can be exposed to 50 million tweets per day and still retain my balance at the end of it, if I can withstand the shock and awe of that many messages and I’m not bleeding from the ears eyes and nose, and if I’m not wearing some giant camo protective suit like the guy in Hurt Locker who looks like a cross between a transformer and the michelin man impersonating Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator, then there’s something behind those numbers worth peeling back.
Fact is there’s probably a lot there worth digging into. Here are some hints as to what we might find, if we had the data and the gear to mine it with. This from Socialtimes:
- A large number of inactive twitter accounts, with around 25% users having no followers and 40% users having never sent a single Tweet.
- Around 80% users sending fewer than ten tweets.
- Only 17% of the registered users having sent a tweet since Dec, 2009.
- The number of active users becoming even more engaged.
“The conclusion of RJ Metrics study was that although Twitter grew tremendously in 2009, a bulk of this growth could be attributed to power users.”
Yeah so how do you like them numbers? Obviously, twitter usage stats correlate to what is perhaps a shrinking percentage of active users (somebody dig up the historical data on how many had 0 tweets and 0 followers 2 yrs ago) vis-a-vis a rapidly-rising flow of tweetage from a core set of power tweeters.
(And I’m now seeing the mental image of not a classroom but a markedly larger higher-ed environment kind of hall or auditorium far in the high back left of which is a cluster of excited-looking students yet again engaged in frantic hand-waving and displaying loss of upper-body movement described perhaps by means of words like “paroxysms” and “peripatetic.” And if I press my fingertips to my temples I’m getting a strong sense that they want my attention.)
Fact is, twitter is an attention machine. And it’s not always a smoothly-functioning affair. It works great if you expect little to come back. It’s perfect if you just get a kick out of turning it on. Awesome if you enjoy hearing the buzz. And rocks if you like standing around with a bunch of other folks just admiring the damn thing, like a beast of engineering well-oiled and purring and all coiled up and ready to pounce like some high performance V 8 on the track at Altamont.
Thing is that we don’t know what kind of machine it really is. Or was, is, and is becoming. We don’t exactly know who uses it, why, and for what purpose. If twitter is an engine for buzz in some circles, a motor of growth for others, a speed demon for fast-moving news cycles, a truck loaded up with discounts and offers, or just a limo with its engine on idle parked where the valet should be while you make your important appearance as it sits, a symbol of your status and overall position — numbers like 50 million don’t tell us what engines those 50 million messages are spinning.
I’ve noticed several types of people who use and benefit from twitter. Obviously a small number of the overall population, given twitter’s somewhat remedial drop-out rate. I group them into four main types, as Self-oriented, Other-oriented, Relationally-oriented, and media users. This fourth type is new, as it’s not really a personality type but works as a media user type.
- Self-oriented types can use twitter to their benefit as a soapbox. Good for punditry, for talking at more than with. Celebrities fit in here also, along with the pundits who would like to be celebrities but are not.
- Other-oriented types, whose communication skills are a bit less self-centered and monological and who are instead more conversational. These types respond and talk to and sometimes with other people. They don’t have to talk about what interests them because they often start with what somebody else says.
- Relational types are more difficult to find on twitter, because twitter makes relational activity hard to engage in. There’s multiple @replying and @naming, but no multiple DM-ing. Relational stuff, like gossip, back-channeling, mediating and triangulating good social grist rests on communication that includes and excludes members of a self-sustaining group.
- Media-related types are those who use twitter just for broadcast. As a way to push out content like news, links, headlines. Or some micro-social version of the big media forms of these. Not as social, not as conversational, and, really, not as egotistical. Twitter as smart extension and tool or channel. (Yeah marketing types don’t go kill twitter now y’hear?)
At 50 million tweets a day, twitter really is humming along. But I would really like to know who’s using it and how that’s going. It has helped me see the value in twitter, and also preserve my own cranial structural integrity, to sort out differences in what is posted there and in how people use it. For branding themselves, passing around bits of interest, journaling out loud, climbing social ladders, socializing hysterically like a first-timer half hung out of the sunroof of a towncar in Vegas…but with a megaphone, an octave pedal, and some doppler-canceling device whose chief function is to make sure it passes at a steady and un-diminishing pitch and volume.
I’m digging deeper into this, because twitter and its ilk are, really and truly, and for better or reflux-inducing worse, the Great Capitalist System’s new mode of production. Both the distribution channel and media preference of choice for millions of new consumers. And even if at 50 million-G-force-inducing-tweets-a-day-but-nobody’s-paying-attention this machine is imperfect and recall prone, it is how we many of us communicate and with that how much of our culture surfaces and makes its waves. Relational, communicative, un-coerced and largely free of the police, twitter is just one in a family of now gangly and sometimes awkward adolescent social tools historically inevitably destined to grow up make the social contributions that are their civic duty.
I’d say stick around, watch, learn, and think a bit. But if you’re here you probably already made that choice. It’s early days, like when television comedies were radio acts with a camera. The talkies are here. Say something interesting. Keep it real. And never be afaid to draw back the curtain ask: So what does this mean?