Twitter Degrees of Separation

Twitter is still small enough to be fun – although that may change. Suw today asked if there was an optimum Twitter friend pool size. There probably is, which will vary by person and how much data you can browse. We’ll get the power users, with plenty of friends and far more followers. Others will keep it private and contained. It’s the Long Tail curve all over again.

The service is also small enough to be able to easily search through some names to see what the general usage is. Pick a name and then work your way through the search results to get a cross section of life.

Starting off with rachel, you find 17 people on the service using that name, including me. Of those, 8 of them are not using the service (either non updates or a couple of updates over a month ago), 2 are new (joined in the last few days) and 4 are private. Of the 3 who are seriously using it, I’ve met one of them, one has connections that I ‘know’ (by this it means that at least reading their blog even if I have never met them and they don’t know me) and the final person has no-one in common.

Let’s look at some more names – Tom, Dick or Harry. I find 20 Toms, but the search, for some reason, does not include the two Toms I am following already. 18 of them are not using it, 1 is using and I know some of their connections. And one is using it regularly but has no connections. Five Dicks*, 4 not using and one joined in the last day or so. Harry is slightly better – out of 7, 5 are not using and I’ve have no connection with the last 2. Of the 20 Bens, 15 aren’t using, 2 joined in the last few days, and 3 are using (1 private). Again the search did not pull up the Ben I know. And with 20 Ians, 14 are not using, 1 is new and I know one of the remaining 5 who are using it.

So can we draw some conclusions?

  • search seems to be limited to 20 people. And does not seem to change the results, so finding people as it grows will be difficult without changes.
  • The majority of people are not using it after they have signed up. That’s between 70 and 90% of the people I checked. Now this could be a consequence of the limited search – I thought that the search could be pulling up the first signers who have not got a critical mass of people to share with, but there were new signees in the search as well so not sure about this.
  • Most people are public in their usage. Privacy is definitely dead
  • Of those that are using it regularly, most have a fair number of connections which means they are in a community of sharers. Seeing updates prompts you to update yourself. As with any network there needs to be a critical mass before you find value. And without this, usage stops as there is no point.
  • The network requirement explains why I see familiar names in the mix – I joined because people whose blog I read have joined. The interconnectedness (or is that the incestuous nature) means that the meme spreads across the community and ensures you’ll know someone. There was at least one other connected community which seemed to have been driven by a livejournal commonality.

So what next for the Twitter club. How do they tidy up and remove dead users? How do they keep the meme going and into a wider group of people? How do you start usage in new groups before they reach the tipping point of enough people in the group to keep it going? Do the ads they are serving cover the costs? Lots of questions. Let’s wait and see.

*If this was NBC, then I would have had to bleep out the Dick. As they did when they showed this brilliant song on Saturday Night Live – Justin Timberlake and Dick in a Box.

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