Report: Facebook's Twitterfication May Have Stunted Twitter Growth

While Twitter is still adding new users at a brisk pace of 6.2 million new accounts per month, only 17% of Twitter’s users (approximately 15 million users) are actually using the social networking site, according to a recent research study by RJ Metrics on Twitter’s users and engagement. The research indicates that although twitter now has 75 million user accounts, a large percent of these accounts are inactive, with about 25% accounts having no followers and 40% of the accounts having never sent a single tweet. If that’s not enough, around 80% of all Twitter users have tweeted fewer than ten times.

Research Methods

RJ Metrics used Twitter’s user activity API to download around 2 million tweets from about 50,000 users to conduct this study. Since Twitter uses auto-incrementing ID numbers (1,2,3,4…) for both users and tweets, RJ Metrics was able to find the percentage of users whose user-ids were not associated with any tweets to find out the inactive users. They than went on to use statistical techniques to extrapolate the results to overall Twitter users.

Number of Twitter Users

RJ Metrics used the auto-incrementing feature employed by Twitter, to assign ids to users and tweets, to predict the ratio of used vs unused IDs. The analysis revealed that Twitter is gaining 6.2 million users per month. However, new user registration actually peaked in July 2009, when it hit 7.8 million users – and is on a downward trajectory ever since.

The new user registration chart also indicates that Twitter’s hockey stick moment was reached sometimes at the end of Dec 2008 and beginning of Jan 2009. Twitter continued to grow like a rocket ship till March, 2009 and ever since that time the growth has come to an abrupt halt – as if the space ship has finished all its fuel.

Average Number of Followers

According to the latest study, the average Twitter user has around 27 followers, down from 42 followers in August 2009. In August around 20% of the users had zero followers, which has now increased to roughly 25% users. One possible reason for this increase in users having zero followers could be the large number of users joining twitter, but then going into slumber.

The fact that a large number of users are not using the site after sign up indicates that Twitter lacks the addictiveness that is needed to pull users into using the service on a daily basis.

Number of Tweets

In the analysis of number of tweets, RJ Metrics found out that around 80% of all Twitter users have tweeted fewer than ten times – not ten times in a month, ten times in all. The tally was at 75% mark when RJ Metrics conducted their study in August, 2009.

In other words, this tells us that only 17% of twitter accounts are actually active. This has declined significantly from Twitter’s early days when around 50% of the accounts were active. The chart for active users reveals another fact, which is persistent with the Number of Twitter Users data, that the number of active users are steadily declining ever since March-April 2009.

Facebook: Reason for Twitters Gradual Death

RJ Metrics research analysis has stopped short of pinpointing the reasons behind the gradual decline in activity over at Twitter. However, we believe that one of the major reasons for this decline is Facebook’s gradual Twitterfication. After Facebook’s failed attempt to buy Twitter, Facebook has embarked on a policy of “If you cant buy them, destroy them” and has slowly but surely copied the features offered by Twitter.

In Jan, 2009 we predicted that if Facebook could provide a status API, it could mean a death blow to Twitter. Facebook opened up the Status API in Feb 2009, and from March, 2009 onwards Twitter’s gradual decline began – see the charts above for empirical proof.