Are our celebrities turning Twitter into a broadcast medium?
The current media buzz around celebrities on Twitter seems to be driving take-up of the service, at least in the UK anyway. However, what is interesting to me is that the celebrity angle fundamentally changes the nature of the service. Are we gradually watching Twitter transform from a conduit for conversation into a broadcast medium?
Earlier this week The Times published a (somewhat maligned) list of popular celebrities on Twitter, sorted by the number of followers they had. That isn't necessarily the significant statistic for engagement, and so I had a look through the list to also see how many people these celebrities were following, and how many updates they had sent.
Quite a few of the celebrities are following very few other people. Of course, in some ways, this is understandable. Estimates for how many people you can reasonably follow before it just becomes noise vary between around 150 and 400-ish. But that is certainly well above the 19 people that Mischa Barton follows, or the 6 that Jamie Callum has taken to heart.
The official Jamie Oliver feed is only following five people for example - and they happen to include fellow celebs Richard Branson, Alan Carr, Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross.
The pure numbers are not the complete picture however. Demi Moore is hardly following back any of the 13,529 people following her, but her updates are full of enthusiasm and @somebody replies to questions people have asked her.
This in itself has spawned a new Twitter phenomena.
Being on the receiving end of an @somebody can suddenly generate hundreds of new followers for the person who asked the question. It is a bit like the spotlight suddenly falling on one individual within a crowd of thousands, and all the people nearby turning round to look at that person.
The frequency of updates is also a key indicator as to how much a celebrity has really adopted Twitter. George Lucas is a classic example. He seems to have used the service with a quick burst of enthusiasm on September 10th 2008 when he signed up, and then rather more sporadically since then. By Tuesday morning he'd made 49 updates in total. This is significantly less than Darth Vader, who is also on Twitter - although I was delighted to spot that George Lucas follows Darth Vader.
Another thing I find interesting about this is how the presence of celebrities has changed the dynamic of the service for new joiners. If you think about it in terms of Facebook, it is as if the first time you joined Facebook, you sent Philip Schofield and Arnold Schwarzenegger requests to be friends, and they friended you back. And all your real friends, as they joined the service, could see that you were friends with a celebrity. So they friended the celeb too.
If nothing else, it really throws into sharp relief the complete lack of a business model for Twitter.
Put it this way - at the moment they have built a super-hotline for Stephen Fry to contact 100,000 of his fans directly and instantly - and Twitter are paying for it, not him or the fans.