After all, it’s been one month since you questioned the long term sustainability of Twitter, so I wonder if you actually stood longer than what you claimed on your research. By now, if your 60% Twitter churn rate was really credible, there was a pretty good chance that you were no longer microblogging. But look, you’re still around and have been pretty active the past weeks.
Asking the right questions
Jonah Lehrer in “How we Decide” explains the way audience research is flawed: when presented to the pilot shows of Hill Street Blues or Seinfeld, focus groups reacted with bad reviews, on what was mostly a response against novelty. On this particular behavior, Brian Graden of MTV Networks rightfully says “Quantitative data is useless by itself. You’ve got to ask the data the right questions”.
The main concern when judging similar situations should be “to sort through these emotion mistakes so he or she isn’t misled by the audience’s first impression. Sometimes people like shows that actually stink and reject shows that they grow to enjoy”.
As with Twitter, people might not always get things on their first time, but it will grow on them, they’ll get used to it and eventually find their own way to enjoy it. Oh, wait: that’s the whole story of the Internet.
Nielsen is acting like TV exec that misinterpreted the data. From the fact that most of the Twitter traffic is done by the API on desktop or mobile applications to the hidden truth that many people do comeback a few months later (see graph below), I felt misled when reading the original link-baiting report that lacked any careful analysis, and when later clarifying the report (i wonder why), they still kept comparing apples and oranges.
Understanding the Twitterverse
Nielsen did a fine job of getting the data, but showed their lack of knowledge about the Twitterverse (the twitter universe, both the ecosystem and the platform).
The service itself is low on friction, which explains part of the dropout rate. But if you think closely and have been around on Twitter for a while you realize that many of these dropout users are lurkers, spammers, pseudo-consultants, squatters, etc. They seek instant gratification and are all about their narcissistic broadcasting practices. No wonder the top 10% of prolific Twitter users accounted for over 90% of tweets.
The platform also hides many of the massive usage from desktop or mobile users. Ask any user that has been using the service for longer than one month and they’ll tell you they mostly use Tweetdeck, Twhirl, Nambur, Twiterific or the sorts. Realizing that users are more active once they learn about these tools, Twitter now promotes apps on the sidebar, a win-win for both developers and the service.
It’s been said before that the “what are you doing” claim is so not about Twitter as it has changed the way people interact using the web, being simple but versatile enough to be used in multiple ways, with a level activity that surges ahead of some high level websites like NYTimes or Digg. Beginners feeling the service is over simplistic and mundane, it’s kind like asking on late 90’s regarding mobile phones, “Why would I ever carry a phone around when I have one in my kitchen?”, as Biz Stone says.
No Media Hype to see here, move along
I’m being a bit too negative on Nielsen, but perhaps that’s because i’ve seen great web services being misunderstood by the ad media, that loves to have a good startup bloodbath.
Media hype has already caused their share of problems to ideas like OLPC or Second Life, but other products and companies like Google or Facebook have managed to float above this by focusing on people and building great products. If Twitter keeps focusing on building a great product, supporting the ecosystem and letting on thousand apps bloom, they will get by this kind of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) and then achieve mainstream adoption.
Old media will keep having a vetted interest in downplaying the importance of digital communication, from reports about the bad consequences of social networking to the cyber-bulling threat. New technologies are hard to understand at first, but as they get adopted and new behaviors more widespread, Twittering will soon turn into a common verb. Just google it.