While Twitter tends to get lumped in with other social-networking sites, a group of Korean researchers has analyzed how people use the service and found that it more closely resembles a traditional news media outlet.
In other words, think of Twitter not as a truncated Facebook, but as a speedy news site where anyone can be a reporter but the dispatches must be no more than 140 characters long.
Haewoon Kwak, one of the researchers, presented the work last week at the WWW2010 conference in Raleigh, N.C.
Kwak listed the ways that Twitter differs from other social-networking sites, and then described the mathematical analysis the researchers performed to show how people share information differently on Twitter than they do on other networking sites.
For the study, the research team gathered information on 41.7 million user profiles. They pulled 106 million tweets and followed 4,262 trending topics, identified through hash tags.
Unlike with most social-networking sites, a Twitter user does not need to get the permission of another user to follow that person's missives. With Twitter, anyone can follow anyone else (as long as that person makes his or her tweets public).
This approach, Kwak said, is closer to that of blogs, which can be subscribed to via an RSS feed. This led the team to wonder if Twitter was more of a news medium than a social-networking site.
The numbers backed up their idea. The team found that only 22 percent of "follows," where one person chooses to include another's tweets on their page, were reciprocal. This is far lower than the reciprocal rates of typical social media sites, such as Flickr (68 per cent) and the popular Koran service Cyworld (77 per cent).
And like other forms of media, including news outlets, Twitter has its stars. About 40 Twitter accounts have more than a million followers. The data indicates that amassing this level of popularity cannot be achieved simply by tweeting as much as possible. Rather, all the most popular Twitter accounts belong to celebrities, who are famous in channels other than Twitter.
The messages themselves more closely resemble those of a news dissemination medium as well. Of the tweets registered, more than 85 percent were news-related in some way.