It all started when they changed the question from “What are you doing? to “What’s happening?”. Or more likely, the Twitter powers-that-be were addressing a trend they’d been noticing for a while: most people were using Twitter as a news platform, rather than a social network. I’ve heard plenty of people say (in various ways) that Facebook is for people you know, while Twitter is for things you know – ie. the latter being a platform for subscribing to a vertical list of subjects you’re interested in, via people.
Recently, four Korean researchers who collected all of Twitter’s data over a month’s time released their research on it. This is the first quantitative study of the entire Twitterverse. They analysed “.. the entire Twitter site and obtained 41.7 million user profiles, 1.47 billion social relations, 4,262 trending topics, and 106 million tweets.” Impressive. They did this in order to see if the way people use Twitter’s mechanics (follow, retweet etc) set it apart from other social networks. Secondly, they wanted to see if the results demonstrated characteristics of news media.
MIT’s Technology Review honed in on two particularly interesting findings illustrating the breadth of this new news system:
First, two-thirds of Twitter users aren’t followed by anyone that they follow, meaning they use it for information consumption rather than connections (not very social of them!)
Second, despite the wide disparity between the Twitter “stars” and typical users, anyone’s tweet still has the possibility of reaching a wide audience, thanks to the retweet function. “Individual users have the power to dictate which information is important and should spread by the form of retweet,” the researchers wrote.
Whether you believe that Twitter, or something like Twitter, will ever reach the popularity of Facebook or not, it’s obvious that the economics of news dissemeniation is changing. Fast. And the identification of primary and secondary sources is almost impossible, if even relevant.
So, do you turn to Twitter to:
a) find out what your friends are doing
b) see what your friends are looking at, or
c) see what’s happening in the world?
One simple test for this to to try and articulate how you feel when you’ve been away from Twitter. Do you feel – uninformed vs lonely? or if you’re a ‘talker’, do you feel muffled or invisibile?
Regardless, safe to say that Twitter is well and truly a part of your news ecosystem right now, whether you’ve noticed or not…