Twitter gets a lot of media buzz, but that's probably because members of the media are some of its most dedicated users. For all the attention Twitter gets, it's easy to forget just how small it really is.
To put Twitter's size in perspective, consider this: The median Twitter account has just one follower, according to data journalist Jon Bruner.
Compared to Facebook, Twitter is a blip on the Internet map. How many of your Facebook friends are only connected to you, and no one else?
Officially, Twitter has 218.3 million "monthly active users," or accounts that log in every month, according to its October filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission to go public. Many more Twitter handles have been registered, but remain dormant for weeks at a time.
Some of the Twitter accounts considered active users are just bots. And still more are not the exclusive Twitter handles of individuals. Unlike major competitors such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+, Twitter lets a single human being control more than one Twitter account. Ultimately, advertisers only care about the number of eyeballs behind all those handles, not the aggregate number of accounts.
The median number of Twitter followers jumps up to 61 if you exclude every account that hasn't tweeted in the past 30 days, suggesting those who plug away at tweeting can build at least a small following. But many people join Twitter only to abandon it weeks or months later.
To many people, Facebook seems safe, while Twitter seems imposing. In the run-up to Twitter's much-hyped IPO, potential investors worried that Twitter's isolated community, with its unique abbreviations and syntax of RTs and @s, may be impenetrable to the newcomers Twitter needs to fuel its growth and justify its $14.2 billion IPO valuation.
The company responded by making conversations easier to track and emphasizing photos in peoples' feeds. But as The Wall Street Journal's Farhad Manjoo noted, those family-friendly changes could alienate the social network's dedicated core.
Bruner's numbers show Twitter still hasn't gotten the moms and dads of the world -- i.e., the casual Internet users -- tweeting. As he suggests, Twitter is influential because influential people use it -- to spat and pat each other on the back. It's not influential because the masses love it. And the masses are what Twitter needs to make real money.