Tom Webster, writing and speaking

Change Occurs at the Margin

Added on by Tom Webster.

A panel-based survey of 18-24 year-olds found that while 99% have profiles on social networks, "only" 22% are on Twitter. The issue with this story, as with 95% of the surveys I come across, is not with the survey (though, let's not get too excited about 44 persons out of a 200-person panel) but with the reporting of the survey. In this case, the reporting of this survey uses the word "only", with all of its implications. Indeed, all of the reports on this study that I have seen on the web characterize the results in this manner, and even the quotes put out by the survey sponsor seem almost apologetic towards Twitter's relatively "small" numbers. Here's the problem with that. Change occurs at the margin. Let's drop the word "only," with its tacit assumptions, and focus on this: If 22% of 18-24 year olds actually do use Twitter, that's millions of young adults, a subset of millions more. "Only" around 30% of the population owns an Apple-branded iPod. If "only" 22% of Americans owned a GM car we wouldn't have today's largest story. Taking a snapshot of a moving target is always dicey--best not to compound that by making a value judgement on the number. When that target stops moving, then we can throw around words like "only." If you look at's assessment of Twitter traffic over the last three months, you'll see that "only" does the trajectory of Twitter a gross disservice. Instead, I'd humbly suggest dropping the prefix "only" and adding a suffix: "so far." We don't know what Twitter will become, and I sincerely doubt anyone really knows what it is...yet.