Update: Now 10 years later, Twitter’s growth has continued but again plateaued at around 325M monthly active users.
Original post follows.
I find it fascinating that Twitter’s growth has come to a stop. For a brief period this spring Twitter’s growth was exponential and unstoppable. However this month they actually had slightly fewer unique visitors to the twitter.com website than last month. I think growth will inevitably resume, but I don’t think Twitter will ever be truly mainstream.
Some people explain the lack of growth by saying that only 20% of twitters users actually visit twitter.com. The other 80% of users, some claim, actually access Twitter from mobile phones and desktop clients. While it may be the case that 80% of the people use Twitter without visiting the website intentionally, I find it hard to believe that those people don’t touch the website at least once a month. Whether you are using TweetDeck or Tweetie, undoubtedly you will click a link at some point which leads you to the website. Therefore even the 80% of people “don’t use twitter.com” must have visited the website at some point during the month.
So, I do believe that Twitter’s growth is genuinely falling off. The fascinating thing about this is that usually with social sites, once critical mass is achieved, growth it inevitable. Regardless of what features are added to the website. Yet I’ve also been hearing it said that the Twitter team hopes to increase user engagement (keep new users coming back) with new features. The new features that the twitter team are adding are excellently prioritized, but I think there’s a danger in hoping that those features will bring more (or more frequent) users. Lists, for example, make the stream more consumable, but are hard to grasp at first sight. Geo-location features will make twitter more pervasive – by more closely associating tweets to the real world. But whether or not this will equate to new users is not a given. Certainly tweaks like the new re-tweet feature risk moving away from the very simple format that has made twitter popular to date.
Another question is whether Twitter will ever be considered “mainstream” or not. Even though twitter is referenced on mainstream media sites like Entertainment Tonight, it is hard for me to imagine absolutely everyone participating in Twitter. As a whole, micro messaging seems more of a phenomenon like blogging (in a smaller format) – not like social networking. Facebook became a mainstream phenomenon because of the peer pressure and social ties that force everyone to join. But I don’t believe people will join twitter just to follow Entertainment Tonight on their phone. The ultimate destination for twitter (checking local coupons on the way to the bus stop) seems unlikely. But, I also didn’t think Twitter would gain as much popularity as it has.
Twitter’s growth is of interest to me because the success of Twibes Twitter Groups relies upon twitter’s continued growth in popularity. I would bet that Twitter’s growth will catch up to its trajectory from earlier this year and follow the trajectory of blogging which still demonstrates continuous growth.
This last graph is not an accurate comparison because it represents the number of blogs in existence (not the visitors to those blogs). However, since twitter accounts are even easier to create than blogs, it seems to me that their growth should follow the same trajectory now that Twitter has established critical mass.