Twitter Types: Vague Thoughts

Thanks to Todd Schoepflin for taking the initiative to get a conversation started about Twitter. We don’t really know what this collaboration will lead to, but hopefully something that contributes to sociological understanding of Twitter and other forms of social media, but really interaction more generally. Todd posted this over at his blog as a way to summarize our initial conversations.
Fresh off that interview, I posed a question about why people use Twitter, via Tweet a few nights ago, and @DrJasonCrockett and @socsavvy responded with some very interesting comments.

I’ve been so focused on thinking about Twitter that when Jason made the obvious contrast to Facebook, something very plain occurred to me. Obviously the relational context of the two sites is very different. The idea of Facebook is that you are connected with people you already know from some other context, while on Twitter it’s connecting to new people that motivates most of the ‘follows.’ On Facebook reciprocity is required, at least in terms of accepting friend requests, while on Twitter it’s primarily optional, unless your account is locked. These two basic premises of what happens at the sites establish very different places and experiences.

There has been quite a lot written about Twitter networks, and also some work the practice of tweeting (here, here). Two areas I’m interested in thinking about, and haven’t seen much writing about, would be the different types of tweeters out there, and the emotional experience of twitter. Here I’ll just sketch some of my initial ideas about ‘Twitter Types,’ knowing full well these categories are just a rough sketch to get me going.

My thinking is pretty basic at this point, but informed by Simmel’s writing about the relation of motivation to social form. I think the kind of tweeter you are has something to do with why you’re there. Are you a consumer, a producer, a conversationalist, a prosumer? Basic tweeter-types might be measured crudely with the metrics of tweets, followers, and following. There are subtypes of consumers. Some consumers are just there to watch; that’s like tv, maybe. Their following to tweet ratio will be high. Some are there to consume so they can then produce something else; this type is exemplified by Ezra Klein and he says a little bit about the experience of this type here. They probably have high follower to following ratios, and lots of tweets. Producers aren’t there to see what others are doing. Their tweets to following ratio would be high. If they are successful, they’ll also have high follower to following ratios. Obviously one has to be careful with measures like these, because not all tweets are the same. Some are original thoughts, some are links, some are retweets, some are replies. If you do this in a thin way you end up with something not very persuasive, like this.

The prosumer tweeter is an interesting type, but I don’t know that it’s a great label. They probably have moderately high following to follower ratios, and a lot of tweets. I think this is just somebody who is there to join the conversation. Conversationalists probably have wider ranges of content in their tweets, and a lot of replies, while prosumers probably stick to whatever their field is.

I’d guess that ‘Twitter Types’ are related to the networks you become a part of, and the experience you have on Twitter. More to think about.

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3 comments

  1. Given that you have identified four possible categories of tweeters, I wonder what interesting insights we would get if we were to run a cluster analysis to cluster a database of tweeters into four clusters. The database could include metrics such as number of followers, number followed, total number of tweets, number of RTs, number of replies, number of tweets not RTs or replies, length of tweets, etc. for each individual tweeter. We could create such a database by crowd-sourcing tweeps asking them to submit their archive of tweets via Twitter’s “Request your archive” tool. With the database, we could also run some classification analyses for fun to see what we get.

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