NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 11: In this photo illustration the Twitter website is displayed on a mobile phone at a NRL match on July 11, 2009 in Newcastle, Australia. The micro-blogging phenomenon sees users post text 'tweets' of upto 140 characters in response to the question 'What are you doing?'. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Nearly one in five Internet users is tweeting on Twitter or using another service to share personal and business updates, or to see updates about others, according to a new study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. That's a rise to 19 percent from 11 percent last spring, according to the group.
Pew attributes the Twitter increase to three types of Internet users: those who already are familiar with social networking sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn or MySpace; those between the ages of 18 and 44; and those who connect to the Net wirelessly using mobile devices.
"I would have been surprised if we had not seen growth in Twitter and status updates since there is so much media coverage of it, from movie stars tweeting their thoughts to news anchors reading tweets on air," said Susannah Fox, associate director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, and one of the authors of the study.
Pew’s survey, conducted by Princeton Survey Research International, interviewed 2,253 adults ages 18 and older between Aug. 18 and Sept. 14.
'Can become a default mode'
The continued growth of smartphones and mobile devices that provide Web access "are associated with a likelihood to tweet," she said.
"On-the-go Internet users say they like to share and communicate with other people — multiple devices make it easier, or inescapable. If you always have the means to update your status right there with you, tweeting can become a default mode."
The Pew study found that people who have four or more wireless devices — such as a laptop, cell phone, game console or e-reader like the Kindle — are the most likely to use Twitter, with 39 percent saying they do so, compared to 28 percent of users with three devices, 19 percent with two devices and 10 percent with one device.
Twitter, a free microblogging site, limits posts — or tweets — to 140 characters or less, with messages answering the question, “What are you doing?”
Some poke fun at the site for its navel-gazing nature and surplus of marketing mavens and celebrity self-promotion. But it earned serious stripes last summer as a key communication tool for Iranians during the turbulent presidential election, when the government shut down Web access to its citizens.
"As powerful as the Internet has become for the democratization of information, its range is limited when compared to mobile texting — a format uniquely native to Twitter," Twitter officials said on the company's blog last week.
"There are over 1 billion people with Internet access on the planet, but there are more than 4 billion people with mobile phones and Twitter can work on all of them because even the simplest of these devices feature SMS (short message service)."
Billion-plus messages sent
Cell phones are a popular way for accessing Twitter. As one measure, the Nielsen Co., which measures media activity, said recently that there were 4.2 billion text messages logged by the two largest wireless carriers in the United States — AT&T and Verizon Wireless — in the second quarter this year. It also noted "the clear leader was Twitter with 1.3 billion messages," followed by MySpace, with 740 million messages sent to the site.
As of September, 54 percent of Internet users in the United States have a wireless connection to the Net, Pew said. Of those, 25 percent use Twitter or another service — such as Yammer — up from 14 percent in December 2008.
In contrast, only 8 percent of Internet users who rely on wired connections to the Web use Twitter, up from 6 percent in December 2008.
"Wireless access is an independent factor in predicting whether someone uses Twitter or another status update service," Pew said. "It is not simply because this group is likely to be young or tech-savvy. Owning and using a wireless Internet device makes an Internet user significantly more likely to tweet. … Not surprisingly, Twitter scratches an itch among mobile Internet users to stay in touch with other people and to share or post content online."
The median age of a Twitter user is 31, Pew said, the same as it has been over the past year. The median age for a MySpace user is now 26, down from 27 in May 2008; for LinkedIn, a professional networking site, the median age is 39, down from 40 nearly 18 months ago, the research group found.
Facebook, the largest social networking site in the United States, with more than 90 million users, is "graying a bit," Pew said, with the median age now 33, up from 26 in May 2008.
Twitter’s Web site draws 54 million visitors a month, according to comScore, a Web data research company.
Not everyone who's on Twitter is tweeting, said Pew's Fox. Many are "following," or listening to what others have to say via their posts, including herself.
"I get as much out of Twitter as I put into it — and I tweet a lot," she said. "But I also value listening in on conversations or following updates from conferences I could never attend in person. The Internet can be a listening tool and nearly everyone can benefit from that, no matter what industry you work in or interest you have."