On the Trail of Twitter’s Tipping Point

Elmer Fudd would say, “Be vewwy-vewwy quiet…I’m hunting Twitter’s tipping point.”   and as 2009 dawns I’m thinking the same thing. What is…was…Twitter’s tipping point?

In this case the “tipping point” I’m speaking of is that made famous by Malcolm Gladwell in his book of the same name. Gladwell defines a tipping point as a sociological term: “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”

Tipping points are tricky things to identify. Twitter has been all the buzz in the social media and geek circles since it’s debut, becoming so popular in such circles that it couldn’t keep up with itself. This perpetuated the continuous shouts from the online crow’s nest of “Avast you lubbers, fail whale dead ahead!” and the growth of alternative services like Plurk, identi.ca and the recently shuttered Pownce. The mere fact that the service was able to overcome, or at the very least minimize, these technical issues and continue to grow could be labeled as the tipping point.

There’s the tipping point highlighted by it’s increase in users in April of 08 noted by Nick O’Neill on his Social Times blog….though this is most likely just a result of a pyramid effect caused by the continued adoption by social media and the related industries.

In October of 08 Claudine Beaumont discussed the “celebrity” tipping point of Twitter. That discussion centered around the concept that celebrities were now establishing Twitter accounts. As she points out, when Britney Spears, William Shatner and John Cleese (Claudine writes for the Telegraph in the UK) start tweeting then their legion of fans can’t be far behind. This is likely more the publicists of celebrities posting for them but still…

Barrack Obama brought attention to the service, along with many social media platforms, with his aggressive use of the medium in his campaign. This was also fueled by the related coverage of that campaign on every news outlet and led to the adoption of Twitter by some of those news outlets. Was this the tipping point?

Or did the point come as recently as this week as a rash of “phishing” scams hit Twitter like a ton of bricks. Clearly, though some signal this as the end of the service, when a service is worthy of being targeted and hacked by the “black hats” of marketing, it means you have a very big audience and you’re doing something right. (Besides, this might be the only way I ever get an iPhone…What?)

Perhaps we can say that Twitter will have reached it’s tipping point when they roll out the monetization plans. Or will it be when they make money? I have no doubt we will see soon because Twitter must make money.

As I mentioned earlier, some have doubts about the long-term future of Twitter. I don’t. Many have heralded the imminent demise of the service, on many occasions. The fact is that they have continued to grow even in light of the problems and the highlighting of those problems by the influencers of the social media space. (Strangely, those same people that were early adopters of the service.) They were the first in and have already outlived some competitors that they spawned. Plus, according to Hubspot’s State of the Twittersphere, they have 4-5 million users and 5-10 thousand accounts are opened per day. That’s a 600% increase in traffic over the past 12 months. Numbers like that don’t just evaporate.

Yet, they still aren’t Facebook…so I continue to hunt.

Has Twitter’s “tipping point” already been reached? Is there only one? Is this the year that we’ll see it? I invite you to join me in this hunting expedition. Have you found it? Where should we look? What do we do with it once we find it? Let me know your thoughts. I look forward to your comments.


  1. Is the tipping point contextual? The funny thing about Twitter, er, one of the many funny things about Twitter, is that everyone’s value is pulled at a personal level. At least for now.

    Twitter first made sense to me at a conference; #hashtagging your tweet allows you to group it with other users at the same conference. Where a side dialogue didn’t exist, we now had one. That type of user uses Twitter as a utility, but a lot of people get a more intimate personal experience out of it. These people actually consider the “what are you doing” notion of Twitter.

    Is one better than the other? Absolutely not, but, it might prove that the tipping point came, went, got whaled, and this “oh crap, now we should start thinking about revenue” issue is going to force some bad business decisions.

    The utility users are a service or two away from having a better way to communicate within dynamic but isolated ecosystems. These people complained about the lack of threaded conversations (in Twitter), or the fact that #hashtags aren’t even in the core Twitter features. They’ve either already moved on, or are just waiting to cheat on Twitter. These are the people, people that use it for business, not businesses that use it to sell, could have (and would have) paid for a monthly service, so sayeth the Scoble.

    What about the people that make more personal social connections on Twitter? Let’s fast forward and assume Twitter moves down the commercial (here to sell) account path. Whatever the mysterious userbase count is, it’s not 150M (hi, Facebook), and companies aren’t going to pay just be able to push/pull with < 150M users. Contextualized inline ads? User personas? Really bad (Digg-style) ads? Either way, the user that connects with Twitter on a personal level will head back behind the walled garden, super poke some people, and be satisfied with using just one social network -- Which already asks "what are you doing?" Facebook 1, Twitter 0. Bummer, eh? It's not even about the downtime, which lately, has been a total non-issue. It's about missing the most rapid rate of growth, not building loyalty with those early adopting evangelists for hire, and now scrambling for a revenue stream. I doubt Twitter growth will decline, but I'd sure be willing to be they're on their way into the maturity stage. Yes, already. -m

  2. Welcome to the echo chamber…

    Any rate, talking to myself, do the past two days of Twitter’s service status (status = fail) say anything about the tipping point?

  3. Matt,

    You are not alone…

    Again, is this the sign of another, or “the”, tipping point? Clearly the rapid growth curve is impacting Twitter again. They still seem to struggle with scaling this thing. Do you think it signals the end of Twitter? Seems a big leap to me.