Where have all the Twitterers gone?

(A few minutes after posting the note below, I came across a recent, related post on the same subject by Tim Bray: Blogodammerung. Tim’s post begins by linking to Jon Udell’s post that was, I think it fair to say, inspired by my post on decline of blogging.)

In my recent post Where have all the bloggers gone?, I commented that –after a self-imposed three-year sabbatical from the web, in which I didn’t blog, tweet, or login in Facebook — there seemed to be far fewer active bloggers.

That post was inspired by watching a few days of traffic on Sam Ruby’s planet.interwtingly.net, which aggregates the blog posts of several hundred folks, most of them expert programmers or influential technical folks. (I don’t mean to imply that I am either, just to note that one would expect these folks to blog more than most.) I noted that if I made a post, often only a few others would write a post before I wrote my next one, and I am not an active blogger.

I’ve noted a similar phenomenon on Twitter. I usually log in once or twice a day to see the recent tweets of the folks I follow, and I’ve noted that there are about twenty to thirty a day.

This may explain why often you find Twitter users who are following hundreds, or even thousands, of their fellow twitterers. You would expect they would be overwhelmed by the volume of twits coming their way, though my guess is that you can follow as many people as you want because most of them rarely, if ever twit.

For example, I currently follow 40 folks, and have a 130 followers. I recently added several well-known open-source folks to my Follow list. I dropped them all after a week since none of them had tweeted.

Put in mathematical terms, for those familiar with measure theory, Twitter is “almost everywhere” or “almost by everyone,” empty of content. Put another way, “almost all twitter users never tweet.”

And those that do seem to follow the Pareto Principle: 2o percent of the people you follow will account for 80 per cent (or more) of all the tweets. (By the way, kudos to Wikipedia, as I was able to find “Pareto Principle” just by searching on “80/20.”) In my case, much of my tweet volume comes from the nice folks at Redmonk, from which I get useful technical insights, as well as a day-to-day chronicle of the ups and downs of Steve O’Grady and the Boston Red Sox. When the Sox are up, so is Steve, as is the case when they lose.

All these observations are consistent with something I noticed at IBM several years back. IBM was actively encouraging employees to maintain internal blogs, to help share information, learn about fellow employees, and so forth.

When I first tried it, IBM was using some Java-based blogging platform that was so bad that to use it was to launch a denial-of-service attack on the IBM internal network. I tried again later, after IBM moved to a new platform, and after writing a few posts I noticed that most people had written very few posts.

Soon thereafter I noted a proud announcement from the IBM blogging team that almost a quarter of employees were “High Impact” bloggers. Since this contradicted my own observations, I investigated further, and learned that, to IBM, A high impact blogger was someone who had blogged more than twice! This meant that three out of four IBM bloggers wrote only one or two blog posts, ever.

And we all know that people under the age of 25 or so rarely use email, much preferring texting.

The net of all this is that almost all current writing is done in segments of 140 characters or less. There’s room for a couple of sentences, but no more than a paragraph.

Looking back almost a century, once wonders what Strunk and White would have made of the results of their dictum, “Omit Needless Words.”

I doubt they anticipated it would be taken to the extreme we have almost reached: Almost All Emit No Words.

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