Pando

How many times do we have to say it? No, Twitter isn't dying

By David Holmes , written on December 24, 2014

From The News Desk

People say "Facebook is dead." They even say "Apple is dead." But perhaps no site receives more premature death sentences than Twitter.

Today's "Twitter is dead" narrative comes from Comscore and Morgan Stanley Research, via Business Insider writer Elena Holodny. She tweeted a chart of the time users spend on various websites. Facebook led the pack, making up about 15 percent of the time users spend on the Internet. Poor Twitter, however, made up less than one percent, prompting Holodny to add to the chart the caption, "The Death of Twitter."

There are a few problems with that conclusion, however. First off, this chart measures "Twitter.com" traffic, and not activity on mobile apps or third party platforms like Tweetdeck. I often spend all day on Twitter without ever visiting "Twitter.com," and so the platform's website traffic alone offers a misleadingly small snapshot of the service's popularity. Furthermore, the comparative analysis used here makes little sense. The chart measures single sites like Twitter.com against bundles of sites from Yahoo or AOL. It also compares traffic on ecommerce sites like eBay and Amazon to that of social networks, even though the user habits on these two types of platforms couldn't be more different.

Those are just the quantitative flaws with the chart. It also reveals some flawed reasoning about Twitter's utility and business model.

Thinking about Twitter solely in terms of time-spent, even if you do take apps and third party platforms into consideration, only captures one part of the service's value. First off, the tweets with the highest reach -- like the "Ellen selfie" or Obama's victory tweet -- live all over the media landscape, embedded on news and entertainment sites and talked about on television. In this way, Twitter is more than just a place to hang out; it's a communication tool. Or, as Douglas Crets remarked on Twitter, it's a "message service," and one that anybody in the world, Twitter user or not, can listen in on.

Does anyone care how much time people spend sending and reading texts? No -- these are designed to be read and composed at lightning speed -- In fact, the less time it takes to communicate with one another the better. We do care, however, about how many messages are sent. And with around 6,000 tweets sent per second that are read and consumed on sites all over the Internet, Twitter has proven its importance as a communication platform.

And finally, the monetization strategies of all these social networks lie with advertisers. Ultimately, brands don't -- or at least they shouldn't -- care how much time users spend reading their tweets or even how much time users spend directly engaging with their Twitter handle. They should care, however, about how many of their ads lead to clickthroughs and conversions. That's it. And while the greater user base and time-spent on Facebook is undoubtedly an advantage, Twitter offers advertisers its own set of unique targeting opportunities that, depending on the brand and its audience, may outshine Facebook's.

To be sure, I don't mean to minimize the challenges Twitter faces in terms of monetization and user growth. Facebook has about four times the monthly active users that Twitter does. And according to Pew, the percentage of US adults that use Twitter is lower than not only Facebook, but also LinkedIn and Pinterest. But with a number of new features coming down the pipeline that are designed to make Twitter less intimidating for new users -- not to mention the numerous flaws with this particular chart -- it's ludicrous to say Twitter is dead or even mortally wounded.

[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]