Twitter an experiment in Population Growth

If you’ve active on Twitter (you should be) after a few months you should have at least these three epiphanies:

1: Many people just follow other people so they can be followed back. They are not actually interested in what you have to say. What’s the point of that?
2: A large % of posts are never read. That’s why post frequency is so high. That’s such a waste!
3: Growth (of new users and posts) is exponential. That’s not sustainable. Where is this all going?

twitter-growth
I want to focus on the third one because what is happening to Twitter (first graph on the right) strangely approximates what is happening to world’s population (second graph on the right). Both are growing at an uncontrollable rate. Both have finite resources. Both are therefore unsustainable long term.

I know limiting user growth is counter-intuitive. New users means more business and money. However, long term as population and number of posts continue skyrocketing, the “value” of a user and post will continue decreasing. If Twitter does not try to contain this growth and maintain user / post “value”, users will simply leave for another social media channel.

World-Population-growth-chart
The question is whether Twitter will manage growth in their own ecosystem or whether they naively leave it alone to self-regulate. The latter would be a mistake. Social media users have a history of jumping to new channels and abandoning the old ones.

Here are three ways Twitter can responsibly limit their growth and optimize profit (not the same as increasing revenue).

Crack down on fake users and posts
There are hundreds of thousands if not millions fake accounts on Twitter right now. It costs just $20 for you to get 20,000 of them to follow you. While this decreases user “value”, so far this has been increasing Twitter activity and need for sponsored posts so I’m sure Twitter doesn’t mind it. As population grows and “value” of a post drops, Twitter can “clean the house” by removing these users.

Change Follow Model
Again, changing a self-perpetuating skyrocketing growth within a limited human population is not yet a problem but it will be eventually. When that happens, Twitter could apply limitations and / or regulations to manage who you can follow and who can be followed. This would also increase both user and post “value”.

Change Post Model
Here we do already see issues. Twitter search API does not produce accurate and complete results. There is simply too much data. About 70% – 90% of the posts I read are promotional junk. I already learned to ignore sponsored posts.They do not increase post “value” issue. In fact they decrease it. Here again, Twitter will have to decide which posts to show based on their popularity (they do this to some extent already).

Whatever the future holds, all population growth models tell us one thing… if left uncontrolled, rapidly growing population will always exhaust available resources and move on to another location or simply die. Self-regulation is not a viable option. I do not wish this for Twitter at all.

Graph References

United Nations @ Population Growth
http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/35571/

Harvard @ Twitter
http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/idblog/2010/03/02/50-million-tweets-a-day/

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