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Cloud Talk

Andre Yee

Is Twitter's Growth Sustainable?

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I know, I know - it's a ridiculous question to ask in light of Oprah jumping on the bandwagon and Ashton Kutcher getting over a million followers. And, Twitter's numbers are certainly impressive - according to Compete, Twitter grew a staggering 752% in 2008, breaking through into the mainstream.

Yet you have to wonder if Twitter can sustain long term growth, even if not at its current blistering pace. There are a few reasons for Twitter fans to be concerned.

1. Attrition - Neilsen Online data indicates that Twitter's retention rate is less than 40%. More than 60% of Twitter users fail to return the following month. It might lead one to conclude that the current crazed interest in Twitter might not exactly translate to real, sustainable user base. Also, if the intrigue aroundTwitter wanes, the possibility that users attrit at this rate will pose a huge problem for growth.

2. Demographics - According to comScore Metrix, the majority of Twitter users is 35-54. It might seem surprising to you unless you actually use Twitter, in which case you already know this - Twitter is for business ... or at least has a huge business community following. More than Facebook, Twitter seems geared for business right out of the chute. This isn't necessarily concerning unless you question the broad sustainability of Twitter's usage pattern.

3. User Experience and Usage Patterns - Twitter is about broadcasting to an opt-in audience which is perfectly suited for business community, especially one as self absorbed as high tech. But what about everyone else? Apart from high tech business and celebrity tweeting, are there additional usage patterns that make sense? The point is that Facebook, MySpace and other social networks have a richer user experience beyond broadcasting. This means additional usage patterns and these translate to greater user affinity and stickiness. Would Facebook be as popular if all it had was the Wall? Probably not.

4. Monetization - Twitter has yet to figure this out but I think they'll eventually get there. There may be a bigger issue looming though. Unlike Facebook, Twitter's wide open API enables 3rd parties to establish applications that are often prefereable to Twitter's own desktop experience (Exhibit A: TweetDeck). Conventional wisdom tells us that most companies try to maintain mindshare of the "desktop experience" because it's the key to monetization. If your user base doesn't primarily use your desktop, how do you capture their attention, much less monetize the value they derive from your solution? That's why Facebook apps are value add but not replacements for the Facebook experience.

Listen, I'm no naysayer - I actually think Twitter is a wonderful social media platform. But regardless of it's amazing growth till this point, these issues are looming for Twitter.

What do you think?


I think the key in number three: user experience and usage patterns. If they get this right the others will take care of themselves. I would like to use it as a personal KM system, something I do with my blog, in addition to broadcasting. This works in the short term, but like del.icio.us, it will get clumsy after a while. there needs to be a better archive, and search capability with ease of categorization. This is just one thing that needs to be done.

Bill - I tend to agree. My point, though, is that Twitter has a narrower user experience than Facebook. It has a narrower usage pattern that possibly means it appeals to a smaller constituent group.

thanks for stopping by with your comment.

Andre Yee blogs about cloud computing, SaaS, Web 2.0 and other emerging technologies that matter to businesses.

Andre Yee

Andre Yee is an entrepreneur and technologist with nearly 20 years of experience in the business of technology.

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