Twitter at crossroads as growth stalls

Twitter’s phenomenal growth rate is stalling, according to recent data from Compete and Quantcast. Data from Compete shows Twitter’s monthly growth slowed to 1.74% in May, down from about 72% in the previous month. The researcher says the site had 19.7m unique users in May.

Quantcast figures, which are described as a “rough estimate” by the research firm, paint an even bleaker picture. Quantcast says the site’s unique monthly users fell by 6% to 21m last month. However, the number of total visits to the site increased by 22% in the same period.

The new data follows studies showing that the majority of Twitter users display little engagement with the service. Research says 90% of the content on the micro-blogging platform may be produced by only 10% of its users. Twitter is also reported to have a high churn rate – up to 40% of new members abandon the service within a month.

The figures come as little surprise to those commentators who say that Twitter could never sustain the hype that has driven its rapid growth. Media and technology blogger John Batelle says Twitter is now on the “less happy side of the traditional hype cycle”. However, he says: “Twitter will address this issue, and growth will resume, but at a more moderate and sustainable pace.”

Some analysts say Twitter will have to evolve if it is to retain its existing users and maintain momentum. Gilbane Group analyst Lynda Moulton says the lack of engagement shown by many Twitter users is “very significant” for the future of the service. However, she says Twitter may be on the verge of a transformation.

“I believe Twitter may morph into something else,” she says. “I think the users and the audience will change.”

She says a divide is emerging between those who join Twitter to broadcast themselves and those who merely follow others: “Early on there was a knee-jerk reaction, if someone was following you, you felt obligated to follow them and I see a shift away from that with people being more selective about who they follow.”

Nevertheless, she says that Twitter remains a hot topic among groups such as IT managers, librarians and business managers. Many are still extremely excited by the service’s potential, though an equal number think it doesn’t have any practical application.

“I’d say they are pretty evenly split between those who think it’s the greatest thing, and those who sign up and scratch their heads asking ‘why did I do this’.”