The SXSW keynote interview of Twitter’s Evan Williams by Umair Haque may have been a bore, but it did highlight some interesting aspects of what Twitter is and how it is used.
Twitter is an interesting application precisely because it is not one. Rather than setting up how to use the service, Twitter has watched as users develop retweeting, hashtags and a variety of other content types then supported them. Twitter.com is not the primary venue for twittering or reading the tweetstream, thousands of applications have grown up around Twitter to support it with little if any competition or push-back from Twitter itself. As a result Twitter has clearly not positioned themselves as an application. Twitter is the network.
During the SXSW keynote Evan Williams explored the question what is an active Twitter user. Clearly they don’t have to read or send tweets through Twitter.com, but what about all the other ways that Twitter may be used? Which of these people qualifies as a “Twitter user” and which don’t?
- A person who only follows a few sources for a low bandwidth news feed?
- A person who benefits from Twitter results in a Google search?
- A person who never tweets, but follows many people for a full fire hose effect?
- A person who never tweets original content, but retweets generously?
- A person who only tweets weblinks that she finds once or twice a month?
- A person who tweets original content regularly, but never @ replies?
- A person who tweets regularly, retweets liberally and receives many mentions and direct messages then @ replies in response?
Certainly there is a spectrum of twitter engagement from reading to active conversation and this wide variety of usage is important to keep in mind when you read data on the Twitter population and active accounts.