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Rags to riches: The secret of Twitter’s success

Posted by Danny Whatmough on 25th November 2009

It’s been quite a year for Twitter. Despite not yet making much money [the pic is a bit misleading, I know], popularity in the micro-blogging platform has soared in 2009. Outside the US, global figures in September reached 58.4 million – a 949% increase on this time last year.

With search engines falling over themselves to get tweets showing up in results and with other social networks clamouring to get Twitter integrated, the future certainly seems bright.

So why the success? What puts Twitter above the other micro-blogger pretenders-to-the-throne and why is it seen as posing such a threat to more established players?

Back to basics

Following feature-rich networks like Facebook, Myspace and Bebo, Twitter is bold in its simplicity. The focus is very much on user generated content, with supporting material such as background images or profile text kept low-key. It’ll be interesting to see whether Twitter is brave enough to stick to the ‘simpler is better’ format, or whether recent tweaks (like Twitter Lists and the new retweet functionality) are precursors for future functionality additions.

The micro-blogging craze

Blogging has been popular for some time now, but it has a few downsides, primarily that it is time-consuming and labour-intensive. Micro-blogging solves these issues. It is easy to use and the 140 character limit makes writing even the most complex tweets a painless, quick and easy experience. Time-pressed, would-be bloggers have been flocking to Twitter to realise their aim of broadcasting to the world.


So many communication methods fall down because of one thing: spam. Twitter effortlessly gets around this problem by requiring users to opt-in to messages they want to receive. If a user is being too noisy, commercial or irrelevant, the solution is easy: simply unfollow.


Coming back to the first point, Twitter’s simplicity means that it is very straightforward to take its core data and create other ways of presenting or interacting with it. Because of this and through its open API, all manner of desktop clients, analytics tools and gimmicks have sprung up around the service. This has fuelled the interest in the service, driven by an active and dedicated developer community.

All brands are welcome

From the beginning, Facebook has always been about ‘real’ people. Twitter is about real people too, but it’s also open to anyone or anything, from people, brands and characters to animals, ideas and bridges. This open-door policy has seen businesses flocking to the network to begin communicating more directly with their public. Facebook, possibly seeing the error of its ways, has been quick to  embrace business interaction further, but Twitter is unique in putting all users on an equal footing.

Media lovefest

If we look at the reason for Twitter’s growth in the UK in 2009, the media have played a huge role with daily mentions of the network almost guaranteed in at least one national newspaper. From Stephen Fry threatening to quit, to David Cameron’s glib remarks, Twitter has been at the centre of our news agenda.

So why the interest? Well, the openness of the service means that Twitter provides a constant stream of fodder for our celebrity-obsessed hacks. On top of this, Twitter is a great way for journalists to communicate with readers, source stories and build up their own fan bases.

picture credit

Danny Whatmough