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This is a Man’s world

BBC gloats over a new Harvard twitter study. See – its not so social, is it? You’re just another broadcast medium. Ha. We know broadcast.

Yeah, well, its called the power law of participation, dude. So far all the BBC has proven is that Twitter is a social networking site. Broadcast medium? Let’s talk when the BBC hits the 10:90 producer:consumer ratio. The Harvard statistics included the majority of people who just registered for a glimpse of what the noise is all about but never came back. Again, typical of social nets. All that reflects is the fact that such sites are valuated (as in money) by the number of subscriptions.

What the BBC missed, however, is the huge gender gap:

Of our sample (300,542 users, collected in May 2009), 80% are followed by or follow at least one user. By comparison, only 60 to 65% of other online social networks’ members had at least one friend (when these networks were at a similar level of development). This suggests that actual users (as opposed to the media at large) understand how Twitter works.

Although men and women follow a similar number of Twitter users, men have 15% more followers than women. Men also have more reciprocated relationships, in which two users follow each other. This “follower split” suggests that women are driven less by followers than men, or have more stringent thresholds for reciprocating relationships. This is intriguing, especially given that females hold a slight majority on Twitter: we found that men comprise 45% of Twitter users, while women represent 55%. To get this figure, we cross-referenced users’ “real names” against a database of 40,000 strongly gendered names.

Even more interesting is who follows whom. We found that an average man is almost twice more likely to follow another man than a woman. Similarly, an average woman is 25% more likely to follow a man than a woman. Finally, an average man is 40% more likely to be followed by another man than by a woman. These results cannot be explained by different tweeting activity – both men and women tweet at the same rate.

Twitter’s usage patterns are also very different from a typical on-line social network. A typical Twitter user contributes very rarely. Among Twitter users, the median number of lifetime tweets per user is one. This translates into over half of Twitter users tweeting less than once every 74 days.
At the same time there is a small contingent of users who are very active. Specifically, the top 10% of prolific Twitter users accounted for over 90% of tweets. On a typical online social network, the top 10% of users account for 30% of all production. To put Twitter in perspective, consider an unlikely analogue – Wikipedia. There, the top 15% of the most prolific editors account for 90% of Wikipedia’s edits.

I don’t have the reference at hand, but I remember that FaceBook, for example, is dominated by women in the 25-35 band. What is it about Twitter that makes it a masculine medium? Is it the exhibitionist style of the tool? Or the fact that it is perceived as a marketing / business venue more than a social one? Whatever it is, is there a causal link between the gender bias of Twitter and its unique social dymanics? In other words, are woman better at listening and sustaining a conversation, while men just want to shout “Look at ME – I’m BIG!”


June 9, 2009 - Posted by | Social Software, technology | , , , , , , ,

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