Twitter’s amazing user growth
The graph above shows an estimate of Twitter’s user population from its launch in March 2006 through May 2009, based on a sample of around 6 million observed user profiles. The dashed blue line is around the 2009 US inauguration of Barack Obama and where the transition from early adopter to early mass audience seems to have taken off.
The entire user population of Twitter appears to have reached 1 million sometime in January but today there are several accounts that have over 1M followers each.
Stated another way, if you signed up before February 2009, you can consider yourself something of an early adopter on Twitter, and among the earliest 15% or so of the entire user population.
The numbers in this survey are inexact but representative, taken from research I’ve been doing for SocialQuant and FailWatch. There is some survivor bias built in, since I’m pruning spam and suspended accounts. Only Twitter knows the true state of the user base and the social graph, of course.
The initial Twitter users tend to know each other more in real life, since much of the social network grew from friends of founders, SWSX attendees, and the San Francisco / Silicon Valley tech community. The more recent (post-Obama) arrivals tend not to have connections to those networks, and often don’t know anyone else to follow. They arrive via mass media and celebrity campaigns, and end up following mass media and celebrities, either from the suggested users list or because those are the only people they know of.
If you look carefully, you can see the rate of increase slows down toward the end of the graph. There was a huge ramp in new user signups around the time of the Oprah show, which has receded somewhat. This has led to blog posts about Twitter’s impending demise, but looking back, there have been previous surges in the user base (typically around SXSW etc) which led to a peak, then a drop in new user signups to an off-peak but higher-than-before average. So far the current surge is the largest, but seems to be following the pattern. In the absence of any new driver, user growth should continue at an off-peak but higher level, until the next big jump, or something better comes along.