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Summary:

Twitter is downplaying suggestions that it’s on a crusade against developers. But a new analysis of Twitter traffic indicates why the company may be getting nervous. While Twitter officials downplay the company’s crusade against new third-party clients, fresh analysis suggests third-party apps account for more traffic.

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The saga over Twitter’s new hardline stance against developers just got more interesting. While Twitter officials downplay the company’s crusade against new third-party Twitter clients, with claims 90 percent of active Twitter members use official Twitter apps on a monthly basis, fresh analysis suggests third-party Twitter apps account for much more traffic: 42 percent, according Sysomos, a social media analytics company.

The data illustrates why the company may be so anxious to clamp down on third-party apps: They command a very sizable portion of apps that can’t be monetized in the same way native apps can. And they explain why Twitter upped its battle with third-party clients last week when the company’s platform director, Ryan Sarver, bluntly told developers to not pursue new Twitter clients and told existing client makers they would be put on a short leash. The latest numbers from Sysomos show that changes to the Twitter terms of service and the company’s enforcement of the rules is having a much bigger impact than Sarver first suggested.

Sysomos arrived at its numbers by analyzing 25 million tweets on March 11. It found 58 percent of tweets were made from official Twitter clients. Twitter.com led the way with 35.4 percent, followed by a gaggle of mobile apps for iPhone, BlackBerry and Android. Meanwhile, unofficial third-party clients made up 42 percent of tweets, led by Ubersocial, TweetDeck and Echofon, all apps owned by UberMedia. UberMedia, if you recall, recently had a handful of its apps suspended for policy violations stemming from privacy, monetization and trademark issues. From the numbers, you can see that Twitter’s biggest challenge comes from UberMedia, which my colleague Mathew predicted would result in a showdown as Twitter takes more control of its platform.

But the reality is, third-party clients are slowly waning in popularity. Sysomos found that in June 2009, unofficial Twitter apps made up 55 percent of all tweets, suggesting Twitter is getting more traffic over time. It has helped its cause by buying up clients like Tweetie.

Sysomos suggests the discrepancy between its numbers and Twitter’s comes from the fact that Twitter was apparently counting users who use Twitter apps on a monthly basis while Sysamos was counting the people who actually tweeted on March 11. It appears Twitter may be counting users who are not as active as users of other third-party apps. As we’ve pointed out, it makes sense for Twitter to take more control of its platform to make money, but it comes with some cost to good will with the developers who helped make Twitter a success. With the latest numbers, we can see that Twitter recognizes there’s a big opportunity in being the main presenter of tweets. But right now, it has to contend with developer partners who are handling a very sizable chunk of traffic. That might explain Twitter’s latest stance. If it really had 90 percent of all tweet traffic, it wouldn’t need to lay down the law. The market would have spoken already.

  1. Did Sysomos break down the 25 million tweets by user or just by application? If they only broke it down by application, then it’s possible, however unlikely, that those people who Tweet through “non-official” applications just happen to tweet more than official client users. It would have to be a significant amount more to make a difference. But if that’s the case, it could also mean that “power tweeters” just prefer non-official apps.

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    1. I think you’re right. Power tweeters are likely drawn to third-party apps because they often have different features not found in official Twitter apps like better notifications or analytics.

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      1. But why doesn’t Twitter provide a common platform to help third-party apps monetize their work? I mean, wouldn’t those 3rd party apps desire some money also using whatever monetization model Twitter could provide? Wouldn’t Twitter be satisfied with a 32/68 model like in AdSense? this way, everyone could be happy and Twitter continue to grow.

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    2. Yes, but at the same time, tracking by number of tweets still show who’s using it the most. Using Twitter’s number, I’m an “official” Twitter user because I have the Twitter for iPad app. I send MAYBE 10 tweets a month on the iPad. In contrast, I’m using third-party apps on my laptop. where I use Twitter the most. Counting by traffic, I’m a third-party user. Counting by Twitter’s numbers, since I occasionally use their official app, I’m part of the 90%.

      If you are looking at advertising numbers, it’s going to be the usage, not the number of installed apps, that’s the metric.

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  2. There may be a better rationale for the discrepancy – Twitter is measuring the percentage of users that have actively used official apps, whereas Sysomos is tracking the source of all tweets. The variation comes from the members that fall into both – those that use more than one app (e.g. using an official app on their iPad, but TweetDeck on their desktop computer). These people would count as users of official apps, even though they may submit most of their Tweets through a 3rd party app.

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  3. The problem with these numbers is that they skew, again, to the digerati. People who work in the space love numbers about themselves – but frankly, the noisiest are going to be, many times, professionals.

    Non-professionals for the most part seem to use the web and official apps, at least going back in a cursory manner through our data and our clients. But of course, those of us with professional, branded accounts are going to use these other tools, as well as power users, and tweet more often. I’ll be honest, I have met only a handful of non-professionals who use anything other than the web or official apps. You can almost guarantee if you see “Tweetdeck” or “Hootsuite” (or even UberTwitter/Ubersocial many times) that it’s someone who does this for a living or is in marketing.

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  4. Ryan, thanks for writing this up. The official position of the new rules being about user experience confusion, etc, is such an obvious load of crap the Twitter team should be embarrassed for using it.

    Clearly this is about monetization. Period.

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  5. Twitter’s “90% are using” includes Twitter.com, which had 28 million uniques in Jan 2011 according to compete.com. Not all the unique visitors have or set up accounts, but the 90% of actives is still going to contain an enormous long tail of once a monthers.

    The heaviest use of Twitter has always tended to come from 5-10% of accounts. So it’s totally expected that 90% of users don’t account for anything like 90% of traffic.

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  6. Claiming that the digerati or professionals skew the numbers is, in fact, skewed. In meeting with users throughout my region I have found that the vast majority are not only using Twitter simply for thier own personal (entertainment/goals/communications), but they are also using third party applications. These are not folks who work with tech or get paid to manage social media, they’re the Joe Fridays hanging around with friends in a digital space when thier lives keep them physically separated. With the widely varied reasons that different people use Twitter and the differences in the way they interact through it, looking at the source applications and breaking those numbers down appears to be the only reliable means of measurement. However, I think those numbers should be attained over a greater spam of time, especially since March 11, 2011 was a tweet heavy day following the disaster in Japan, causing folks who would not have otherwise tweeted that day to join the conversation.

    This comment was posted from inside Tweetdeck’s iPhone app.

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  7. Claiming that the digerati or professionals skew the numbers is, in fact, skewed. In meeting with users throughout my region I have found that the vast majority are not only using Twitter simply for thier own personal (entertainment/goals/communications), but they are also using third party applications. These are not folks who work with tech or get paid to manage social media, they’re the Joe Fridays hanging around with friends in a digital space when thier lives keep them physically separated. With the widely varied reasons that different people use Twitter and the differences in the way they interact through it, looking at the source applications and breaking those numbers down appears to be the only reliable means of measurement. However, I think those numbers should be attained over a greater spam of time, especially since March 11, 2011 was a tweet heavy day following the disaster in Japan, causing folks who would not have otherwise tweeted that day to join the conversation.

    This comment was posted from inside Tweetdeck’s iPhone app, from a non-professional tech-tard.

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  8. Lucian Armasu Tuesday, March 15, 2011

    What’s sad about this is that once Twitter works *only* through the twitter page and clients, access to Twitter will be easily cut off by countries where people are making revolutions. If you remember the Iran revolution, it was very hard to stop people from tweeting because they had these clients and could access it from many different places, not from the Twitter site, which was blocked long before.

    Twitter may give whatever reason they want but at the end of the day, this is all about making all Twitter users to see their own ads.

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  9. UberMedia should build a “twitter backend” and start migrating users over to it :).

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  10. IMHO, this really boils down to a question of control and ultimately censorship. I care about the new medium of communication that Twitter pioneered, not necessarily Twitter. Twitter will become more and more a single point of censorship easily blocked by belligerent authorities.

    My two cents on the matter here, http://siculars.posterous.com/twitter-monoculture .

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