Have you ever been an observer or an unwilling participant in an event -- or even an entire era -- that left you asking yourself, "What am I missing here?" Disco immediately comes to mind. For kids growing up in the late '90s, maybe it was the Giga Pet craze. And whomever it was who came up with the notion that a "couples wedding shower" is a fun idea should be shot.
So when the Internet message center called Twitter was launched in July of 2006 and became the most popular online activity among techies, talkers and Tinseltown tweeters, it left me scratching my head. "What am I missing here?"
Apparently not much, if a just-released survey by Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project is to be believed. In phone interviews with roughly 2,250 adults 18 and older, conducted over a three- to four-week period, Pew found that only 8 percent of American adults who use the Internet are Twitter users.
Now this isn't the first survey Pew has conducted that examined Twitter users. In eight surveys between August 2008 and September 2010, Pew asked participants whether they used Twitter or another service to share updates about themselves or to see updates about others. The key words here are "or another service."
In August 2008, 6 percent of Internet users said "yes" to the question. In September 2010, 24 percent of Internet users said "yes." Pretty impressive growth, wouldn't you say? But since the questions covered much more than just Twitter use, the resulting figures were inflated and misunderstood by many who clearly thought the survey referred only to Twitter users.
Thus the decision to move forward with the November 2010 survey, which put forth a straightforward question: "Do you use Twitter?" That's it. No embellishments, no addendums. Just one simple question. And, indeed, the Twitter-specific survey results show that only 8 percent of adults say they use Twitter, and only 2 percent of those do so on a daily basis.
That's a far cry from news and business reports touting Twitter's takeover of the social media universe. Oh, and get this: Since 74 percent of American adults are Internet users, a more accurate head-count results in Twitter aficionados accounting for only 6 percent of the entire adult population!
Kinda makes you want to stroke your Giga Pet, doesn't it?
The latest Pew survey also includes some demographic information and usage statistics about this seemingly paltry bunch of Twitter users. For instance, young tweeters between the ages of 18 and 29 years of age (14 percent) are more likely to user Twitter than other adults. Latinos (18 percent) and African-Americans (13 percent) are more than twice as likely to user Twitter as white Internet users (5 percent). And city dwellers (11 percent) are twice as likely to use Twitter as rural residents (5 percent). And of all Twitter fans, women and college-educated Internet users are more likely than average to tweet.
Follow-up surveys by Pew show that 24 percent of Twitter users claim to check in multiple times a day for tweets, while 41 percent say they seldom or never look for new material on the site. As for what these Twitter users talk about, 74 percent list personal life, activities and interests, while 62 percent say they post updates regarding their work, and another 55 percent share links to news stories. Fifty-three percent say they retweet material they received, 40 percent share photos and 28 percent share videos with others. And 24 percent use Twitter to tweet their location.