A Twitter Conversation

Jun 11 09

A Twitter Conversation

Paul Weinstein

A couple of pieces of news from the last few days has me thinking that Twitter might have reached its apogee. Last week I dugg an article about San Francisco’s information center using Twitter to connect with residents, allowing them an alternative method for requesting government information and non-emergency services. At first glance the move sounds intriguing, it required no special setup or additional city funds, yet gives San Francisco and its mayor Gavin Newsom, additional tech creds.

Checking out the city’s Twitter feed my second thought was how interesting the information might be to aggregate, in a mashup, or some other form. Providing in a quick glance an easy to read indicator on trends within various neighborhoods, what people are worrying about or have issue with.

Then I thought about using it, and here I realize a larger issue (besides the small fact that I no longer reside in San Francisco). Twitter is about conversations, but it is about many-to-many conversations. In the real world you can think of it as a group conversation at a party, people move in and out of the social group and the conversation ebbs and flows on that dynamic.

Well that’s the theory at least. A recent Harvard Business School-based study indicates 90% of Twitter’s content is generated by only by 10% of its users. The research team notes that “This implies that Twitter resembles more of a one-way, one-to-many publishing service more than a two-way, peer-to-peer communication network”.

From Harvard Business Publishing’s Conversation Starter Blog, New Twitter Research: Men Follow Men and Nobody Tweets

So Twitter isn’t like a group conversation after all. It is more like a lecture. One person speaking to a collection of individuals, with a few participating in a ongoing question and answer session.

What does this have to do with our city information desk? Well if you have something specific to ask someone you’d probably take that person aside to have a direct conversation, callin on a city representative about a specific issue is a one-to-one conversation.

Unless I’m a community organizer, I don’t really care to follow the city’s Twitter feed. I have a question, I want an answer. Twitter might be my first place to gather information from other people, but it isn’t going to be my first choice when directly engaging the question in search of a specific solution.

Overall this means Twitter and microblogging are useful, but only to a point. Which brings us to the crux of Twitter’s problem. Unlike Facebook, where writing status updates is one aspect of the overall experience, microblogging is all Twitter is about.

Which might explain why Twitter’s online traffic might have reached a plateau. According to Complete, Twitter’s monthly traffic numbers increased only 1.47% from April to May of 2009. While one month’s worth of data hardly indicates an overall static growth trend, from March to April Twitter experienced a 32.72% increase in traffic which itself was down from a 76.83% increase between February and March. That sure looks like the beginning of a plateau…

Twitter’s Unique Visitors as Calulated by Complete