On “Who’s Driving Twitter’s Popularity? Not Teens”

Article | Miller, C. (2009). “Who’s Driving Twitter’s Popularity? Not Teens.” The New York Times. Retrieved 22 Octover, 2009.


Summary | Traditional early-adopter models assume that the youth – teens, tweens, and children – are core to the success of new technologies. However, recent products (e.g., iPhone, GPS devices, Kindle) have proven this to be largely myth. The notable example chosen by Claire Cain Miller is the exponential growth of Twitter over the last couple years. While many factors have contributed to the success of twitter among adults, core among them are the nature of the different groups’ social structures/interactions, existing application ecosystem, and (not discussed) Twitter’s design.

Whereas a child’s (and even young adults’) main interactions occur within their core social group, an adult’s interactions often include a much wider and more loosely defined sphere of individuals. Twitter, with its “one-to many network”, is much more suited to this collective experience.

Additionally, the nature of their online social interactions is not dictated by “the music [they] listen to and the quizzes [they] take”, but participation in an ongoing social dialogue. Twitter’s ability to facilitate diverse conversation on many topics with an audience far beyond one’s social circle differentiates it from other social networks.

Another key hurdle facing Twitter in winning over younger users is a concern over privacy. The nature of social networks tends to limit visibility to friends – something important to not only younger users, but more importantly their parents. Despite the privacy settings in twitter, users still perceive the service as having their “life displayed for the entire world.”

Moreover, the existing ecosystem of applications and communication mediums plays an important role in why the younger generation hasn’t flocked to the micro-blogging world. The invasiveness of social networks (e.g., facebook and myspace) inhibits desire for yet another very similar means to communicate.

User Groups | In reading this article, it became clear that the nature of and goals for social interaction among different demographics can be vastly different. These differences play a key role in the success and perceived usefulness of any product. Understanding these variations is key to identifying NEED for a new product, or redesigned product.

The current adoption of twitter (a new technology) among the older demographics also dispels some stereotypes regarding aptitude to use and learn new technology. This willingness to learn how to use new social tools is an important takeaway.

Conceptual Design | As mentioned above, it is important to consider user needs and what drives those needs in order to develop a product that will be successful. Twitter’s concept was simple “being able to know what his friends were doing” (from Twiiter.com/about) – the intent was to create a simple tool to communicate status.

Today, twitter has expanded into – among other things – a marketing, promotional, and social communication tool. Interestingly, this seemed to happen naturally – an evolution of user input – rather than out of explicit design of concept. Is Twitter a successful product?

Interaction Design | One of the reasons Twitter seems to be successful among an older demographic is simplify of interaction. The simple type-submit mechanics the primary interaction is familiar and simple. Employing this familiar and straight forward interaction lowers barriers to use and decreases chance of failure in interaction.

  1 comment for “On “Who’s Driving Twitter’s Popularity? Not Teens”

  1. April 18, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    There’s now video-twitter and audio-twitter. I wonder how these sub-cultures respond to this medium…

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