A new Twitter study conducted by marketing company Pear Analytics is making the rounds at the moment that analyses a cross-section of 2000 tweets collected randomly over a two week period. The findings of the study, which also reviews a number of other recent studies for comparison, show that when tweets are categorised into six separate categories the largest one turns out to be ‘pointless babble’ – comprising over 40% of the collected data.
‘Pointless babble’ was defined by the study as a tweet that referred to some activity or action such as “eating a sandwich right now”, and was matched very closely in the data by conversational tweets which were defined as updates between users; but also including questions and polls asked. Between the two categories, almost 80% of the data collected belong to one or the other.
Contrary to popular opinion, particularly within media circles, the lowest category was the one classified as ‘News’ with only 3.6% of the data. However, as this does category did not include articles from large blog sites such as TechCrunch and Mashable (and other social media focused networks) it is hard to tell how skewed the category is.
As with all such studies, the difficulty comes from deciding upon how to categorise tweets. Pear Analytics has at least given a definition of their categories, however an appendix of sample tweets might have been quite useful to add further clarity. I am also a bit doubtful as to the size of the data-set collected, as it was only over a two week period and collected 2,000 tweets. Had they decided to collect 10,000 or more then the findings would have more weight behind them, and I can’t help but feel that the study was let down by such a decision.
Because of this the findings generated from this study are a bit hard to discern, as the data-set is not really large enough to form any proper conclusions. However, Pear Analytics has said that they will be conducting further studies on a quarterly basis – so over time we should be able to develop a more comprehensive idea of just how people are using Twitter and whether or not our presumptions are founded on anything meaningful.
Regardless of the faults behind this study however, anybody using Twitter will tell you that there is an inordinate amount of ‘pointless’ updates on there. What we can do about this, and whether indeed we need do anything at all, is up for discussion. This partly comes from the fact that Twitter is still trying to find its identity amongst the social media landscape. Is it a pure micro-blogging site? Is it a social news network? A cross-section of the modern zeitgeist? Or just an exercise in corporate and personal marketing? What direction Twitter as a company decides to go in the future will influence greatly which of these categories (and many others) rise to the surface in the long term.
It is undeniable that Twitter certainly has many beneficial uses, the recent use of it during the political turmoil in Iran is a perfect example of this. However, it is also becoming increasingly clear that a large section of it is really just web 2.0 junk; a minefield of pointless information that not many people can make much use of within the public arena. In an environment such as Facebook this ‘babble’ makes more sense because of the closed nature of your network, but on a public announcement platform? Who would honestly care what you had to eat or what you think of the person sitting next to you on the bus?
In the end, the one thing that this study really does highlight is the need for more studies to be conducted! It is an interesting read, but not really anything of enough substance to take real findings from. From our point of view, Future Conscience sees a lot of merit and possibility in the social networking aspect of Twitter – where tribes of ethical individuals can influence social paradigms as a collective. But nothing ever exists purely as its ideal (indeed, the ideal is different for different users!) – so I think we’re just going to have to get used to sorting through the muddy waters of Twitter banality and promotional spam to find the small gems that glisten at the bottom.
Let us know what you think in the comments – do you feel that Twitter is a useful tool, or just too full of pointless updates and spam to be of any real use?