Twitter Grows Up: The Start of a New, More Mature Era


Number of Twitter posts per day, and projected growth.

It seems that Twitter has grown up. From work undertaken to determine the growth rate of Twitter at the Discipline of Information of Technology which is part of the National University of Ireland, Galway, it appears that Twitter is now growing at a constant rate. It’s growth is no longer dramatically and somewhat erratically determined by early adopters and the subsequent wave of trend followers.

This constant rate of growth reflects Twitter’s now established role as a social tool and people are joining this online social network when and as they find it useful.

From December 2009 until June 2010 myself and Josephine Griffith ran an experiment to track the growth of Twitter. To measure the rate of growth of this online social network we used two key metrics: The number of Twitter users and the number of tweets posted.

To track the users we ran a script written in python that accessed the Twitter API. We ran this script once a week over the duration of the experiment to collect the highest user ID (this is the number twitter uses to identify your account as an alternate to the name you chose for it.) count on the public timeline over the course of an hour. To track the growth posts (tweets) we created a script to find the highest post ID (each tweet also has its own numerical identity) count on the public timeline over approximately fifteen minutes. We ran this script at the same time each day.

We found, through watching the stream of post IDs on the public timeline, that new post IDs tend to increment by one. Before April 2010, the public timeline showed 20 of the most recent tweets published on Twitter, with post IDs incremented by 1. Allowing for account deletions and other known factors we could use these number counts to guage both the size of the traffic flow and the absolute size of twitter itself.

From the graph at the top of the page it can be seen that we can reasonably predict that Twitter is likely to start regularly exceeding a hundred million tweets a day sometime in the autumn.

Post numbers grew over the period at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 510%. The number of daily posts more than doubled, from 33,898,378 on December 3rd to 67,981,000 by 16th June. Our findings are largely consistent with reports from February 2010, which claimed Twitter was processing 50 million tweets per day.

In April 2010, Twitter announced that the service had 105,779,710 registered users, and was signing up 300,000 new users per day (2.1 million per week).

The week before this announcement, our data showed a highest user ID of 127,701,101 and a weekly increase in user ID of 2,183,211. Our data on user growth over the period seems to accurately reflect the truth; user ID does correspond closely to the number of users. We can use it with confidence to discern the growth in new users signing up to the service.

Comparing our figure for that time of 127 million user IDs and Twitter’s figure of 105 million users, we suspect that the disparity between the two figures is down to accounts suspended for spamming, and users who have deleted their account.


Total Twitter users by date.

The chart above shows the highest Twitter User ID counted for each week over the period. The line of data in the graph suggests that Twitter assigns new users with IDs in a sequential fashion. CAGR for Twitter user ID growth was found to be 155.36% over the period. On December 2nd, 2009, the highest encountered user ID was 94,130,941, rising to 153,268,741 by June 7th, 2010.

Tracking the post ID of new Twitter posts, and the user ID of users, is an effective way to track Twitter growth. The service enjoyed significant growth over the period both in new users and in the amount of activity in the community. The number of Twitter users is growing at a CAGR of 153 % to June, 2009. User involvement is growing much more quickly at a CAGR of 510%.

The correlation between the growth in new users and the far larger growth in growth in user activity suggests ongoing challenges for the scaling of the service. This has enormous financial implications for the engineering and architectural aspects of Twitter. But with a steady growth rate it will be much easier for them to make realistic plans for the future.

How very grown up of them.

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2 thoughts on “Twitter Grows Up: The Start of a New, More Mature Era

  1. What would be interesting would be to find out more about the demographic of people who are using Twitter. For example: male or female? Teens or adults? ABC1 or DEF? etc.

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  2. Some demographics have been estimated (e.g. http://www.socialmediatoday.co…. A nice way to estimate male/female ratio would be to get a big list of common christian names which was split into the two genders, extract a bunch of Twitter users names from their profiles, and look them up in those dictionaries. Would be straightforward if such a dictionary of names exists, and I assume such does. I reckon that’s been done as well though.

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