A Twitterer's Tipping Point

Explaining Twitter to non-tweeters is still a difficult process. “It’s like Facebook status without Facebook” doesn’t do it justice—or sound very appealing. “It’s a public, non-realtime messaging system” convinces no one to sign up.

All the Twitter users I know have learned about it through word of mouth and been very confused initially. But everyone I know who joined has organically started to discover just how useful it is.

I typically see people go through three stages:

At first, users are tentative. They don’t know what to post, or why they should. They may discover some friends or family on Twitter and follow them, more out of friendly courtesy than genuine interest. Posting is slow, irregular, and primarily through the web site.

A small tipping point happens when the user starts following people they don’t know personally. Maybe a blogger or another content producer, but someone who is interesting, not just familiar. This person probably posts links, and the burgeoning tweeter may start sharing a few links of their own. They discover tools like TinyPic and s.hort.cc. Posting becomes a little more frequent and regular. They may start using a client like Twhirl, or may stick to the web.

Now they start following more and more people. Some go too fast and are flooded with noise. Most end up unfollowing at least a few users fairly quickly. I followed @nytimes for a few days before realizing they posted dozens of things I didn’t care about.

The real tipping point comes when new tweeters discover messaging. They might have used it but there is a moment when Twitter becomes more about multi-directional communication than about posting your own status. Now they’re posting frequently, having discussions, responding to questions and asking their own. They almost definitely use a client or IM (when it works).

There’s no common time frame, as far as I can see. It took me three months to hit the first tipping point, and another five to get to the next. You can see the shifts in my tweet history.

My father (@irasocol) seems to have jumped all the way stage three in less than two months.

How long did it take you? If you’ve watched people start tweeting, what kind of progression did they go through? What about you?