Musing about enfranchisement and Twitter

I spent a little time reading this Pew Internet survey on Twitter and Status Updating.

It feels strange to be close to the edge of this classification:

Twitter and similar services have been most avidly embraced by young adults. Nearly one in five (19%) online adults ages 18 and 24 have ever used Twitter and its ilk, as have 20% of online adults 25 to 34. Use of these services drops off steadily after age 35 with 10% of 35 to 44 year olds and 5% of 45 to 54 year olds using Twitter. The decline is even more stark among older internet users; 4% of 55-64 year olds and 2% of those 65 and older use Twitter.

I think the key trends are that Twitter users are racially and ethnically more diverse than the population at large, and that they are more likely to be using wireless devices and smartphones. Of course, as the report suggests, this may be due predominantly as a result of the relative youth of the Twitter user. But I think it’s more than that.

I think we need to recognise that Twitter lowers barriers to entry, reduces the cost of participation. Which means more people get enfranchised, are able to take part. Twitter is not necessarily about high speed internet connections and industrial strength desktops. I think there is a class of person who is attracted to Twitter just because of that. Nothing to do with age.

8 thoughts on “Musing about enfranchisement and Twitter”

  1. The first question that comes to mind is this is “ever used”. What’s currently use? Last week? Last 24 hours? What’s frequency and where are heavy users concentrated?

    Great that “status” is beginning to really play a role in our real-time communications. We’ve still got a very long way to go.

  2. When I first read “Twitter users are racially and ethnically more diverse than the population at large” I nearly got on the phone to Ben Goldacre.

    But I thought I should do some due diligence first. And I’ve learnt something as a result. A sample can be more diverse than the population, using measures such as the Simpson Index. Nothing can beat the richness of the population but a more even spread of sub-groups can improve the diversity measure of a given sample.

  3. Great point by Dominic above, but I have to say that my “regular experience” tells me that twitter does not have anything like this kind of penetration. Its just a hunch, but I don’t think we are there yet, maybe another year. There again, $35m can’t be wrong? :)

  4. It amazes and depresses me that anyone still uses socio-demographic break-downs as a basis for analysis of any activity in such a fluid world.

    The reason for usage/behaviour is what counts and which creates the commonality they’re seeking to understand.

  5. @John oddly enough I didn’t find it amazing or depressing; but I guess I was looking at something else. I have assumed that places like India and China will not emulate Western-level PC/desktop/laptop penetration; that the same will be true for wiredness of homes. So what I look at is mobile and wireless use, what gets empowered, what doesn’t.
    I suspect that today, in the west, socio-demographic breakdowns are good leading indicators for those splits, desktop/phone and wired/wireless. So it becomes useful to me from an enfranchisement viewpoint.

  6. I’m sure we can divine something from the data but working solely from the excerpt you quoted , I was filled with doubts. What do they mean by Twitter “and its ilk” ? Does that include Facebook -style status updates – isn’t that chalk and cheese? Are you JP happy to be lumped in with internet users (whatever that means) of your age? Personally I would guess that your usage is more akin to that of a younger demographic.

    The racial/ethnic diversity is intriguing – my brain may not be working, but doesn’t that imply a greater penetration of such tools amongst racial minorities in whatever countries are being studied? Does that speak to proof of your thesis of the diferent host devices in later developing user bases?

    And I tend to agree with that thesis – for me mobile can be a somewhat misleading moniker – I’ve always thought about in terms of portability – it’s not so much about being able to ciommunicate while you’re moving and much more about always beeing in communication wherever your itinerant lifestyle may take you.

    While the lower barriers to entry do not always include cost – I was told that for the kerala fisherman who are so often a use case example, the initial purchase of a phone was a financial outlay equivalent I believe to a number of weeks income – it is undoubtedly true that portability and wireless enable a whole different type of usage that homestations would not.

  7. I read this report before I read your post. I came away from the report with what seems to be a different thought. It seemed to me to point out that Twitter has moved beyond the status of being a fad among the young. The bulk of users are between 25 and 50.

    I had a friend ask me if I thought this adoption by older users would push younger users away. If this is not a fad then this will not happen. I know my teenage children did not throw out their cell phones when their Grandparents got cell phones.

    I came away thinking this validates the permanence of the newer platform of communications.

    I do not think the success Twitter or Facebook or other specific services is the point as much as the success of the new platform. After all, since the late 80’s there has been a great deal of change in cell phone providers but not in the existence of cell phone.

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