Growth of Twitter Fueled by Media Coverage

A new study by MIT, which seeks to understand Twitter’s “contagion process,” has found that news media played a crucial role in the site’s growth. The study tracked development from 2006 to 2009, and also found that more traditional forms of social networking, like geographic closeness, were an important factor in Twitter’s initial diffusion.

The authors of the paper, which is set to appear in the journal PLoS ONE, used Google Insights for Search to track weekly news stories from Google News searches. Spikes in Twitter adoption corresponded with news coverage. One example was Ashton Kutcher’s challenge to CNN to see who could attract 1 million followers first. Kutcher won by half an hour, gaining an invite from Oprah Winfrey who also sent out her very first tweet. As news about Twitter increased, so did its number of users.

Marta Gonzalez, a co-author of the paper, told MIT News that other studies typically use media as a constant, but since media is “responding to people’s interest and vice versa… we included it as random spikes.”

The study also highlighted the importance of word of mouth in the spread of the social networking site. Cities that were “early-adopters” of Twitter were located close to San Francisco and Boston where young techies contributed to its initial growth. It turns out that cyberspace is closer to our physical realm than it seems; the spread of one of our newest methods of communication was aided much by one of our oldest.

Do you think Twitter has since transcended geography? Or will it always be somehow obliged to our older methods of communication?