Wednesday, June 10, 2009

New Tool Helps Twitter Users Manage Interactions

If Twitter is going to be a long-term tool for social networking, it's going to need to evolve -- quickly -- because many users are already abandoning their accounts, according to a research scientist from Purewire, a Web security applications developer.

"It's fairly well known that some characteristics of social networking tools become a graveyard [of dormant users]," said Steve Webb. "People get excited about them but that excitement dies very quickly. That effect shows up in Twitter."

In fact, that trend seems to be happening at a faster rate than other popular social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, Webb said.

"The main difference between Twitter and Facebook is Twitter is a lot more work. With Facebook, you have friends in the real world and you can say, 'Let's find these friends' with bi-directional links. On Twitter, you can find friends, but it's not the same bi-directional linking."

Purewire conducted research that found that 40 percent of Twitter users have not tweeted since their first day on Twitter. In addition, approximately 25 percent of Twitter users are not following anyone and about two-thirds of users are following fewer than 10 people.

With Twitter, it's difficult for new people to break into well-established circles, Webb said. "If you look at the most popular [subject for] tweets, it's about trying to figure out Twitter or learn Twitter. Twitter is a simple concept, but it's difficult for the average person to figure out what to do with it. There's not a lot of rich content coming out of it. If you don't have a lot of people following you, there's no reason to continue to post updates," Webb said.

In addition, while Twitter has become a medium for receiving information, it's lagged behind other tools as a way to interact with others, according to Webb. Purewire found that 80 percent of users have fewer than 10 tweets and 80 percent of Twitter users have fewer than 10 followers.

"It's a very powerful medium to get a message out to people from big, social media moguls. From that standpoint, I don't foresee that going away. Massive groups will keep seeing new pictures that Ashton [Kutcher] is putting up or what Shaq [Shaquille O'Neal] is doing in the off-season," Webb said. "But if they want a longer shelf life, they need to appeal to people that need something to do. Just showing up and typing a few messages about people who don't care what you're saying doesn't help. I expect them to come up with something."

As a means to improve Twitter usage, Purewire this week launched TweetGrade, a tool that grades Twitter users based on their usage and reputation. It allows users to better determine whom they should be interacting with, Webb said. "It's like a credit bureau for Twitter. It's at least some data point to take and go from there," he said.

Eventually, Purewire plans to integrate TweetGrade into its Purewire Trust service, which offers security and authentication across multiple social networking tools, Webb said. "We try to establish who can you trust? Will this person give you a malicious link or send some malicious data in the feed? That's our primary responsibility," he said.

For example, Purewire notes the "Best Video" scam that recently attacked Twitter users by directing followers to a video wanting viewers to purchase rogue antivirus software.

TweetGrade is Purewire's "contribution to the community at large," according to Webb. It's a free tool, as the company drives its primary revenue through enterprise analytics applications, he said.

"It's difficult to associate trust and your reputation to online personas. You can get a new friend request, but it's difficult to know whether you can trust that person or have a relationship with that person. We give one good data feed to who is trustworthy, who is not. If they get an F, you may not be as interested in interacting than if they had an A or A+," Webb said.

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