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The Decline of Twitter.com; Not Twitter

cinderellaFor many people, Twitter is like Cinderella – the belle of the ball who will suddenly become a servant-girl again at the stroke of midnight. It explains why there’s a steady flow of reports that Twitter has plateaued or that Twitter is in decline whenever a report from Nielsen, comScore or Compete is published.

The latest “Cinderella” story comes from eMarketer, which breathlessly asks “Tweeting No More?” based on a 27.8% decline in unique visitors to Twitter.com in October, compared with September. While that number is large, there are likely several reasons to explain some or most of the decline.

The most obvious is the growing popularity of non-Twitter.com services and applications such as Tweetdeck, Seesmic, HootSuite, CoTweet, Thwirl, Tweetie, Twitterrific, Brizzly and SplitTweet. While Twitter has dabbled in making changes to Twitter.com, external developers are raced ahead with much better products that come with more useful and compelling bells and whistles.

For many people, Twitter.com is like a bike with training wheels. Once they have the hang of Twitter, many people move on to something else. While Twitter.com has added some new wrinkles recently such as Lists, it’s simply not good enough to maintain its place as the place where active Twitter users hang out.

In many respects, this is another one of those Twitter head-scratchers: the willingness to let others be innovative and, in the process, poach traffic coming to Twitter.com. Why, for example, has Twitter not used any of its venture capital booty to create an AIR application to compete with Tweetdeck or Seesmic. Where’s the ability to manage multiple accounts to compete against CoTweet or SplitTweet? Where’s the super-cool wireless application to battle Twitterrific? For all the talk about Twitter monetizing itself with ads, traffic to monetize those ads is slipping away.

Another interesting consideration is that according to a recent study by Sysomos (a client), Twitter.com’s market share has stayed flat over the past five months at about 46%.

So, how do you correlate flat market share with declining traffic?

Maybe it has to do with the data being crunched. Given the large ecosystem and the different ways people are using Twitter, it may be that getting view of the TwitterSphere is difficult, if not impossible. For all we know, the data collected by Nielsen, comScore and Compete may be inaccurate….or not.

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  • Josh

    Keep in mind that traffic is generally measured as "monthly uniques". Even die-hard Tweedeck, Seesmic or Tweetie users are very likely to visit Twiter.com at least once a month; e.g., when clicking on a new follower in an emai notification, updating their Twitter.com background, etc.

    Therefore, from a pure traffic measurement perspective, the rise of third party Twitter clients should not have a material impact on Twitter.com's monthly unique traffic. The downtrend is real!

  • http://twitter.com/derek Derek

    The people hardcore enough about Twitter to use Tweetdeck & other clients will visit twitter.com (the website) at least once, if not hundreds of times per month. The graphs you see showing the plateau often show unique visitors, not pageviews, so Twitter (the service) does appear to be having a tough time continuing an upward trend with new users.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/markevans markevans

      Thanks for the insight. Although I'm a Tweetdeck and Seesmic users, I do visit Twitter.com at least once a month to do things such as update my profile and photo, as well as check out new Lists.

      Mark

  • http://Twitter.com/Twitter_Tips Twitter_Tips

    The "Unique Visitors" metric has never been good at counting people who visit from home, work & on the road—which is to say, most of us. But when users switch to an app, they are less likely to ALSO visit Twitter.com from each of home, work & on the road.

    So from being counted 2-3 times, app users drop to being counted more like 1-2 times. However you count it, there is still a significant drop entirely attributable to switching from web usage to app usage

  • http://texastumbleweedtravels.blogspot.com/ Debra Howard

    I don't think I agree, I have found that the majority of people I know haven't discovered it yet or even tapped into its potential. I received info on the Ft Hood shootings several minutes before it was even on the news. Look at how important a role it played in the Iran incident a few weeks back. It was the only news making it out of the country. I think the potential is yet to be discovered. I have been tweeting for just a few months and am just discovering it myself. I tend to be ahead of the crowd on some of this stuff and every teenager I have asked about it does not tweet. That is a whole market not tapped yet. It just needs more time and I think it could definitely grow to facebook proportions.

  • http://emarketer.com/blog Clark Fredricksen

    You've hit the nail on the head, Derek.

    I don't think anyone disputes — we at eMarketer certainly don't — that 3rd party app and mobile app usage of Twitter is certainly on the rise. This data does not necessarily suggest a drop in the number of Tweets, nor in overall Twitter usage — just Web traffic, which we know from TweetStats and other studies only is a fraction of Twitter's total reach. In short, the Twitter community is as healthy and thriving as it ever was.

    What this data does potentially suggest is that Twitter is not enticing new users as effectively as it was, say, 6 months ago.

    While the Twitter community (and I'm definitely part of it) may be tweeting more and more, new users still aren't seeing the value of the service. How many times do people who don't use Twitter ask "Why do I care about what anyone ate for breakfast?" It's simple messaging: Too many people still view Twitter as microblogging, when in reality, it's being used for many things that are far more valuable. Unfortunately, many prospective users, as well as new users, don't get that message right off the bat. This data may indicate that Twitter needs to do a better job of showing those people the real value of the service, beyond "what's happening", if it wants to retain more new users.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/markevans markevans

      Clark,

      Thanks for the comment. It will be interesting to watch Twitter's unique visitors over the next few months to get a handle on whether growth is slowing or whether it's just a pause in the action.

      Mark

      • http://emarketer.com/blog Clark Fredricksen

        Thanks, Mark.

        Uniques will definitely be an important metric to watch. Also important, aside from data convergence around 3rd party usage, will be the traffic on "www.Twitter.com/" (in other words, web traffic to Twitter from non-users, prospects, and pre-login users). Either way, enjoyed reading your well-articulated thoughts on the matter. Looking forward to more discussion in the coming months. Cheers.

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