Twitter may have over 200 million registered users, but half of the tweets shared on the popular microblogging site are actually generated by a small group of “elite” members, a new study has found.
Yahoo! researchers teamed up with Cornell’s Sharmei Wu looked at about 260 million tweets posted on Twitter between July 28, 2009 and March 8, 2010 and found that 50 percent of the tweets are shared by only a group of 20,000 users of the networking site.
By using Twitter ‘lists’, the researchers were able to distinguish between elite users – specifically celebrities, bloggers, and representatives of media outlets and other formal organisations – and ordinary users.
“Based on this classification, we find a striking concentration of attention on Twitter – roughly 50 per cent of tweets consumed are generated by just 20,000 elite users – where the media produces the most information, but celebrities are the most followed,” a Yahoo! researcher said.
And if you’re mildly disheartened to hear that the microblogging platform is being controlled by 20,000 people (less than 0.05 percent of the Twitter population) – then you’re going to be really depressed knowing that these quadrants are generally retweeting information created between them.
“Celebrities overwhelmingly pay attention to other celebrities, media actors pay attention to other media actors, and so on. The one slight exception to this rule is that organizations pay more attention to bloggers than to themselves.”
But there is some hope for introducing fresh information into the stream, as “bloggers in general rebroadcast more information than the other categories.”
Of course, no Twitter study is complete without mention of Ashton Kutcher. Research found that “aplusk’s” (as he’s known to his plethora of followers) retweets act as the middle man of information for over 100,000 Twitter users.
The team also found that individuals on Twitter follow back far less than they’re followed, making it a less “social” platform than the likes of Facebook .
“The Twitter follower graph, in other words, does not conform to the usual characteristics of social networks, which exhibit much higher reciprocity and far less skewed degree distributions, but instead resembles more the mixture of one-way mass communications and reciprocated interpersonal communications,” Yahoo! researchers explained.
Another interesting finding is that, in a world where you are able to follow absolutely anyone from many different walks of life, people tend to follow and listen to people the same as them — something important to remember if you’re attempting to use Twitter for awareness raising.
Earlier this month Twitter turned five and revealed that one billion tweets are sent a week, with an average of 140 million being sent a day. Though the site has over 200 million accounts, it has not revealed how many of those are active.