What Exactly Is An ‘Active’ Twitter User (And How Many Of Those Do They Have)?

Last week we looked at some research from Twitter account tracker Twopcharts, which stated that Twitter had passed the 300 million user mark.

Twopcharts made this calculation by observing that all Twitter profiles are registered sequentially, starting with the first way back in March 2006, and by monitoring registration dates from Twitter accounts and their IDs, the 300 million number seemed solid.

However, this clashes with user stats released from Twitter themselves, who pegged their network at 200 million profiles in February – a number they’re clinging on to in their business pages. 100 million new users in three months? Not bloody likely.

So, what gives? How many users does Twitter actually have, how many of those are actively using the service and, more importantly, what the heck is an active Twitter user, anyway?

To answer this, Twopcharts re-analysed their own data using Twitter’s benchmark as a launch point, and came up with a modified (and, yes, different) result.

Starting from Twitter’s February account base of 200 million, and working with their publicised daily new sign-up rate of half a million, Twopcharts established that Twitter should have around 260 million users at the moment. Twopcharts then made the assumption that about 12% of all Twitter accounts are deleted or cancelled – don’t ask me where they got that number from, unless they worked backwards – which reduces their 300 million estimate to 264 million, which approximates with Twitter’s numbers.

They also stated that their research suggests that of these 264 million users, about 45%, or 118.8 million, have never sent a tweet.

Now this is where it gets sketchy – if you’ve never sent a tweet are you automatically a non-active Twitter user? What if you don’t write but follow lots of accounts and read Twitter each and every day – surely that makes you very active? More so, I would argue, than somebody who posts once or twice a month, and does nothing else. But statistically, at least in terms of pure, measurable data (and the way most people see it), the latter is more ‘active’ than the former.

Possible active Twitter users seen in the wild. Note the approaching Ubermedia bomber.

Twopcharts state that of the estimated 264 million accounts, 40 million have sent a tweet within the last two days, 60 million within the last week and more than 85 million have sent at least one tweet in the past month.

If 45% of users have never tweeted, that means 55%, or 145.2 million users, have. The average output for all users is pegged at just over one tweet per day. Multiply that by 145.2 million, and you get 145-150 million daily tweets across the network. Twitter’s actual number? 155 million tweets per day. So we’re in the right ballpark, even if we arrived drunk and staggered around outside for half an hour before climbing over the fence.

It’s worth noting that this paints a very different picture to a Business Insider study back in April that suggested Twitter had just 21 million active users. The metrics and variables used to make that calculation were very different, but even then it seemed incredibly low.

Of course, this is all just speculation. We won’t know the actual number of current users until Twitter next graces us with an update. And we might never know the active user total until Twitter goes public and has to release this data and more. Moreover, and as above, if the very concept of active is hard to define, we may never know, because it will always be bound to someone’s definition. Perhaps just how often and how long everybody logs into Twitter is all we need. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen those stats. Or even an attempt at a guess. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Until then, Twopcharts effort, putting aside the educated guess that it absolutely still is, might well be the closest thing we have to an agreeable tally.