More and more people are turning to Twitter for their up-to-the-second reports of news, entertainment and celebrity gossip, but is the service dominated by a small group of 20,000 or so people as claimed by Joe Hagan in NYMag? Sort of.
Last month Twitter reached a milestone of 100 million active users – quite an achievement, but how information disseminates through the service is still a mystery to many. However, a study from S. WU et al over at Yahoo Research tries to explain how the news and information trickles down to each user through tweets and retweets, and who were creating the content at the top.
The study found that there are around 20,000 elite tweeters that produce about half the tweets in any one person’s timeline at a given time. That is quite an exclusive group as it makes up only 0.05% of the Twitter userbase, but they are the ones creating the quality content that people want to read and share. These 20,000 users do not create 50% of the total tweets on Twitter – Twitter publishes 200 million tweets per day – but are the ones that are hyperconnected to everybody through only a few short steps. Most people on Twitter only have a few (anecdotally normally less than 100) followers that their 140 character messages are broadcast to, but this small group of celebrities and bloggers have thousands or even millions of followers to whom they can disseminate a message.
The importance of these “leaders” can be overestimated, however, as whilst they are the ones at the top sharing information, it is the discussions between people’s own friends (real and digital) that adds colour and depth. Information may still be distributed in a relatively top-down manner, but consumption has broadened to include discussion.