Monday, April 13, 2009

From Twitter for Geriatrics, to #amazonfail

Following on from my post on Facebook stats, here's an interesting set of factoids that came out over the Easter weekend about Twitter.

"The number of people using Twitter in February jumped a dramatic 700% compared to the same month last year, reported ComScore. And who's largely behind that huge increase? Well, it's not the teen set. It's not even twenty-somethings or thirty-somethings, according to the online researcher.

Online researcher ComScore found that people between 45- and 54-years-old are 36% more likely than other age groups to use Twitter, making them the highest rated age group, followed by 25- to 34-year-olds, who are 30% more likely to Tweet out updates about their life and work.

What's notable about this is that traditionally, the people who first populate social networking sites - think Myspace and Facebook - are, well, younger. Much younger. Teens talking about school and dating, and posting pictures of pool parties and proms got Myspace off to its meteoric start.

But older users - you know, the ones who've been able to vote for 15 years or more - are now diving into social networking. Just last month, Hitwise Pty., which measures online traffic, reported that Facebook's audience of people over the ripe old age of 35 increased by 23% in February compared to February 2008. While the social network was launched to serve college students, Facebook has broadly expanded that audience over the past year to include many middle-aged folks.

"The skew towards older visitors, although perhaps initially surprising for a social media site, actually makes more sense than you might think at first," wrote Radwanick. "With so many businesses using Twitter, along with the first generations of Internet users "growing up" and comfortable with technology, this is a sign that the traditional early adopter model might need to be revisited. Not only teenagers and college students can be counted among the 'technologically inclined', which means that trends are much more prone to take off in older age segments than they used to."
Twitter traffic skyrockets, thanks to middle-age tweeters | ITworld "

Some of this ties in rather interestingly with some papers I've seen and discussions I've had at various conferences lately. According to US privacy researcher Jean de Camp (among others), older people are risk averse, reluctant to give up privacy without tradeoff, and untrained in how to use unfamiliar technology effectively and without fear. I would add that adults are nowadays time poor, at least before retirement.

FB appeals to young folk who like tagging themselves in photos, embarrassing themselves and their friends and letting it all hang out if it gets them new dates and new party invites. "Real" blog sites like Live Journal and er, Blogger, appeal to those with time on their hands, or a least, thosd who'd like to be distracted from their actual proper work :) and those who find writing fun not a chore. Second Life appeals to - I don't know, who *does* Second Life appeal to?

But Twitter is deliberately restricted to 140 character "tweets", making it (like texts) swift, economic as to the point, mobile-optimised and thus actually useful - as was said this weekend, it actually has a higher signal to noise ratio than any other SNS (unless you have Geeklawyer on your Friends list ..) - no cat photos, no emo angst - just good info and links. It is unsurprising therefore that it is being swiftly adopted as the SNS of choice by older, more busy, more business-inclined users. It is also lacking in the endless bloatware and (so far) ads of most sites - another plus for the older busier user with no time for a learning curve.

But Twitter also has a killer app - namely, hashtagging - the use of tags like #websci09, #g20, #drwho, etc, in tweets, to aggregate comments by people who may not know each other and not be on each other's "Friendslists". Twitter thus has the ability to provide broad "zeitgeist" coverage of a major event, conference, festival, creative work or even "issue". This, as I and other legal commentators have mentioned lately, has made Twitter suddenly immensely popular at recent academic and techie conferences, where it can provide a running mobile distributed real time annotation and microblog of the events of the conference.

One excellent use Pangloss has seen of this lately was at Wealth of Networks, a low budget London day event which was free to the public and deliberately aimed to include an online audience as well. WON 09 simply had a large screen at the back of the hall where #won09 tweets where streamed in real time, visible to audience and answered from time to time by speakers. (This can be facilitated using TwitterFall.)

And this Easter weekend, when traditional news outlets downsize and the news is mainly of Popes and chocolate, Twitter's users have exposed in stunning style Amazon US's rather clumsy attempt to render invisible multiple bestselling LGBT classics by removing them from their various rankings charts. While none of the traditional UK media outlets except Channel 4 have even picked up in this yet (according to a quick Google), #amazonfail has become the top tag on Twitter, and dragged Amazon into the so-called "court of popular opinion" in a remarkable show of web 2.0 distributed global viral action. Most impressively perhaps, Twitter has mobilised a global work force who have not just passed news on, but combed Amazon's database trying to compile lists of what words have and have not been filtered out.

Whatever you think of Amazon or Twitter's respective politics, this is another clear landmark in the domain of politics, digital activism and distributed "strong" democracy. Pangloss is intrigued to see what happens next..

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