And/But/Only

EsterhausYesterday I posted some new Twitter research that showed 92% of Americans are aware of Twitter, and 8% currently use the microblogging service. I also posted an analysis of some of these data, and why Twitter seems to be focusing on "Trending Topics" lately. I'm grateful to everyone who tweeted, retweeted, discussed and commented on these posts. I noted with some interest the sheer volume of tweets that said things like this: "92% are aware of Twitter, but only 8% use it!" and other variations on that theme. Certainly, when I write reports on data like these, I'm an "and" guy, and not so much a "but only" guy.

I was careful in this particular instance to say "and," because to say otherwise would be to cast a judgement on whether or not 8% of Americans is a big number, or a small number, compared to the 92% figure. In Twitter's case: I just don't know (yet). I do know that the growth in actual unique humans (not accounts) appears to have slowed from previous years - that's demonstrably true. Saying, however, that "only" 8% use Twitter tips your hand clearly into the #FAIL camp, even if only subconsciously.

I think the temptation to say things like "Twitter has universal awareness, but just 8% use it" implies that you have access to a piece of information that I do not: what Twitter's usage should be. I don't know what it should be. I know that it is tempting to compare it to Facebook, but I also know from a researcher's standpoint that Facebook (like Google) is the great outlier.

Comparing two numbers - like 92% and 8% - is an extraordinary relative exercise. If I told you that 92% of Americans were familiar with Rolex, but "only" 8% owned one, I'd look like a fool. Most of you have probably heard of Kia, or Hyundai; I'm sure they'd love to have "only" 8% market share in the US. Yes, cars and watches are apples and oranges to services like Twitter. Setting aside Facebook, however (again, the great outlier), what are the other "apples" to Twitter?

I'm sure the folks at Twitter would like their usage figure to be higher. I don't know what it could be, what it should be or even what it can't be. I do know what it is.

Let's be careful out there.