Growth of Twitter vs. Blogger  MAY 08 2007

Important update: I've re-evaluated the Twitter data and came up with what I think is a much more accurate representation of what's going on.

Further update: The Twitter data is bad, bad, bad, rendering Andy's post and most of this here post useless. Both jumps in Twitter activity in Nov 2006 and March 2007 are artificial in nature. See here for an update.

Update: A commenter noted that sometime in mid-March, Twitter stopped using sequential IDs. So that big upswing that the below graphs currently show is partially artificial. I'm attempting to correct now. This is the danger of doing this type of analysis with "data" instead of data.
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In mid-March, Andy Baio noted that Twitter uses publicly available sequential message IDs and employed Twitter co-founder Evan Williams' messages to graph the growth of the service over the first year of its existence. Williams co-founded Blogger back in 1999, a service that, as it happens, also exposed its sequential post IDs to the public. Itching to compare the growth of the two services from their inception, I emailed Matt Webb about a script he'd written a few years ago that tracked the daily growth of Blogger. His stats didn't go back far enough so I borrowed Andy's idea and used Williams' own blog to get his Blogger post IDs and corresponding dates. Here are the resulting graphs of that data.1

The first one covers the first 253 days of each service. The second graph shows the Twitter data through May 7, 2007 and the Blogger data through March 7, 2002. [Some notes about the data are contained in this footnote.]

Blogger vs. Twitter cumulative messages (first 253 days)

Blogger vs. Twitter cumulative messages

As you can see, the two services grew at a similar pace until around 240 days in, with Blogger posts increasing faster than Twitter messages. Then around November 21, 2006, Twitter took off and never looked back. At last count, Twitter has amassed five times the number of messages than Blogger did in just under half the time period. But Blogger was not the slouch that the graph makes it out to be. Plotting the service by itself reveals a healthy growth curve:

Blogger cumulative posts

From late 2001 to early 2002, Blogger doubled the number of messages in its database from 5M to 10M in under 200 days. Of course, it took Twitter just over 40 days to do the same and under 20 days to double again to 20M. The curious thing about Blogger's message growth is that large events like 9/11, SXSW 2000 & 2001, new versions of Blogger, and the launch of blog*spot didn't affect the growth at all. I expected to see a huge message spike on 9/11/01 but there was barely a blip.

The second graph also shows that Twitter's post-SXSW 2007 growth is real and not just a temporary bump...a bunch of people came to check it out, stayed on, and everyone messaged like crazy. However, it does look like growth is slowing just a bit if you look at the data on a logarithmic scale:

Blogger vs. Twitter cumulative messages, log scale

Actually, as the graph shows, the biggest rate of growth for Twitter didn't occur following SXSW 2007 but after November 21.

As for why Twitter took off so much faster than Blogger, I came up with five possible reasons (there are likely more):

1. Twitter is easier to use than Blogger was. All you need is a web browser or mobile phone. Before blog*spot came along in August 2000, you needed web space with FTP access to set up a Blogger blog, not something that everyone had.

2. Twitter has more ways to create a new message than Blogger did at that point. With Blogger, you needed to use the form on the web site to create a post. To post to Twitter, you can use the web, your phone, an IM client, Twitterrific, etc. It's also far easier to send data to Twitter programatically...the NY Times account alone sends a couple dozen new messages into the Twitter database every day without anyone having to sit there and type them in.

3. Blogger was more strapped for cash and resources than Twitter is. The company that built Blogger ran out of money in early 2001 and nearly out of employees shortly after that. Hard to say how Blogger might have grown if the dot com crash and other factors hadn't led to the severe limitation of its resources for several key months.

4. Twitter has a much larger pool of available users than Blogger did. Blogger launched in August 1999 and Twitter almost 7 years later in March 2006. In the intervening time, hundreds of millions of people, the media, and technology & media companies have become familiar and comfortable with services like YouTube, Friendster, MySpace, Typepad, Blogger, Facebook, and GMail. Hundreds of millions more now have internet access and mobile phones. The potential user base for the two probably differed by an order of magnitude or two, if not more.

5. But the biggest factor is that the social aspect of Twitter is built in and that's where the super-fast growth comes from. With Blogger, reading, writing, and creating social ties were decoupled from each other but they're all integrated into Twitter. Essentially, the top graph shows the difference between a site with social networking and one largely without. Those steep parts of the Twitter trend on Nov 21 and mid-March? That's crazy insane viral growth2, very contagious, users attracting more users, messages resulting in more messages, multiplying rapidly. With the way Blogger worked, it just didn't have the capability for that kind of growth.

A few miscellaneous thoughts:

It's important to keep in mind that these graphs depict the growth in messages, not users or web traffic. It would be great to have user growth data, but that's not publicly available in either case (I don't think). It's tempting to look at the growth and think of it in terms of new users because the two are obviously related. More users = more messages. But that's not a static relationship...perhaps Twitter's userbase is not increasing all that much and the message growth is due to the existing users increasing their messaging output. So, grain of salt and all that.

What impact does Twitter's API have on its message growth? As I said above, the NY Times is pumping dozens of messages into Twitter daily and hundreds of other sites do the same. This is where it would be nice to have data for the number of active users and/or readers. The usual caveats apply, but if you look at the Alexa trends for Twitter, pageviews and traffic seem to leveling out. Compete, which only offers data as recently as March 2007, still shows traffic growing quickly for Twitter.

Just for comparison, here's a graph showing the adoption of various technologies ranging from the automobile to the internet. Here's another graph showing the adoption of four internet-based applications: Skype, Hotmail, ICQ, and Kazaa (source: a Tim Draper presentation from April 2006).

[Thanks to Andy, Matt, Anil, Meg, and Jonah for their data and thoughts.]

[1] Some notes and caveats about the data. The Blogger post IDs were taken from archived versions of Evhead and Anil Dash's site stored at the Internet Archive and from a short-lived early collaborative blog called Mezzazine. For posts prior to the introduction of the permalink in March 2000, most pages output by Blogger didn't publish the post IDs. Luckily, both Ev and Anil republished their old archives with permalinks at a later time, which allowed me to record the IDs.

The earliest Blogger post ID I could find was 9871 on November 23, 1999. Posts from before that date had higher post IDs because they were re-imported into the database at a later time so an accurate trend from before 11/23/99 is impossible. According to an archived version of the Blogger site, Blogger was released to the public on August 23, 1999, so for the purposes of the graph, I assumed that post #1 happened on that day. (As you can see, Anil was one of the first 2-3 users of Blogger who didn't work at Pyra. That's some old school flavor right there.)

Regarding the re-importing of the early posts, that happened right around mid-December 1999...the post ID numbers jumped from ~13,000 to ~25,000 in one day. In addition to the early posts, I imagine some other posts were imported from various Pyra weblogs that weren't published with Blogger at the time. I adjusted the numbers subsequent to this discontinuity and the resulting numbers are not precise but are within 100-200 of the actual values, an error of less than 1% at that point and becoming significantly smaller as the number of posts grows large. The last usable Blogger post ID is from March 7, 2002. After that, the database numbering scheme changed and I was unable to correct for it. A few months later, Blogger switched to a post numbering system that wasn't strictly sequential.

The data for Twitter from March 21, 2006 to March 15, 2007 is from Andy Baio. Twitter data subsequent to 3/15/07 was collected by me.

[2] "Crazy insane viral growth" is a very technical epidemiological term. I don't expect you to understand its precise meaning.

Read more posts on kottke.org about:
Andy Baio   Anil Dash   Blogger   Evan Wiliams   nostalgia   statistics   Twitter   weblogs   www

There are 31 reader comments

Tom02 08 200710:02AM

Out of curiosity, what did you make those charts with?

Mark Hurst08 08 200710:08AM

I think your first "miscellaneous thought" on user data is the most relevant in the column. I think Blogger vs. Twitter risks being an apples-to-oranges comparison. To be provocative, how about comparing Twitter's growth with the number of AOL Chat messages users sent when it began to get really popular in the mid-90s? (And here each message would be each time someone typed "lol" or "age/sex check" or whatever.)

Ed16 08 200710:16AM

I agree completely with Mark, and I'm glad he posted before me.

People are chatting back and forth on twitter, they're spamming every song they play in itunes to it, etc.

It's blogging vs microblogging, and I think a much better comparison would be number of active users, rather than number of messages.

pig bodine19 08 200710:19AM

why are you comparing blogger and twitter? why not AOL dialup subscribers? it's equally non sequitar.

jkottke30 08 200710:30AM

The charts are straight out of Excel.

The apples vs. oranges comment is valid, but I still think it's a useful comparison, more useful than the AOL Chat comparison. Twitter isn't strictly IM on the web. Yes, lots of people are using it in that way, but it's not a chat room. There's a significant publishing aspect. Plus, when Blogger launched, it was just a textarea and a post button, just like Twitter. And if you look back at early Blogger use, there's a surprising amount of "chat" back and forth between users...for many, it was a distributed chat room like Twitter or MySpace is today.

John Ratcliffe-Lee30 08 200710:30AM

Jason,

What are your thoughts on Tumblr? I use both Twitter and Tumblr (but not Blogger) and am curious to where you see Tumblr fitting in between straight-up micro blogging (Twitter) and more traditional means (Blogger). More specifically, how these systems affect our communications and the topics we discuss. Just a thought.

Thanks,

John

jkottke35 08 200710:35AM

And one other point. If circa-1999 Blogger had offered hosted blogs right away (a la blog*spot) and not via FTP and had built-in Six Degrees type of stuff from the beginning, it would have essentially been Twitter. Twitter is what 1999 Blogger was in an alternate universe.

Mike Aparicio35 08 200710:35AM

This is like comparing volume of text messages to emails. If you remove spam from the equation, there's certainly going to be more text messages sent in a day than emails. My dad only recently learned the difference between my e-mail address and my website address. He doesn't even know how to check his voicemail on his cell phone, much less send a text message. Twitter seems like more of a niche thing than blogging. (Although it's fair to say that blogging was once, and maybe still is, a niche thing.) I don't see it ever catching on in the mainstream. It's uses seem a lot more limited than blogging.

jkottke41 08 200710:41AM

I like Tumblr. One of my biggest frustrations with MT and Wordpress and almost every other blogging tool out there is that they don't offer multiple post types. Tumblr does.

Where I think it still has a way to go is on the reading/exploring side. In the context of the above post, Tumblr is a Blogger-type application because it doesn't have any of the social stuff built in. Make it easy for people to build reading lists and social ties and expose them on their Tumblr blogs. Increased utility and growth will follow.

smackfu52 08 200710:52AM

Twitter is halfway between IM and blogs, and the number of posts reflect that.

I'm surprised it keeps pace with Blogger even at the start. To me, that indicates slower growth.

IQpierce54 08 200710:54AM

Did you think about maybe at least using anecdotal evidence to scale the graphs? It seems to me that, with the obvious exception of you, the average blog get an average of somewhere between .5 and 2 posts per day. Meanwhile the average twitter user seems to send between 3 and 10 messages per day. Again I don't have hard numbers, this is anecdotal, but it's also undeniable.

So what, in your view, does this graph actually mean? To me, without scaling for the point above (which has been echoed about 10 times above), there's no clear meaning to this graph. It's just you saying "I got all this neat data and look when I graph it... look!!! DATA!!!!!" Don't get me long, I totally empamathize with your love for data, I just like to be able to draw meaning from it too.

Mike Newman59 08 200710:59AM

This is really interesting, Jason.

You're asking more than one question here. 1. Is Twitter taking off faster than Blogger did? 2. Why has Twitter been so successful in such a short period of time? I'm not sure the first question will ever get a satisfying answer because you can't really compare apples to apples. Contexts are different, the technologies are different, and there is no consensus about how to measure "speed of taking off." I like what you have done but tracking number of messages doesn't strike me as telling the whole story. One thing you don't mention is that Twitter messages (tweets) have a constraint on their length of 140 characters. It might take me five tweets to say what I could in a single blog post. As for the second--from a personal standpoint, I love that Twitter makes the write page and the read page one page. This makes it into a conversation in a way that a blog is not. The best comparison I can think of for this feature is the Facebook wall.

As for tumblr, they are introducing social stuff. I haven't checked it out yet, though.

John Ratcliffe-Lee01 08 200711:01AM

Jason,

Agree completely about Tumblr lacking, at the moment, on the reading/exploring side. I've "friended" a few people on Tumblr and their content shows up in the same place/timeline where my own content does and it can get sort of confusing sometimes.

Also, I have yet to associate logging into Tumblr with checking out the Dashboard page for the content my friends put there. Instead, for now, it's more of a WP-like dashboard...where I start in terms of content production.

With all that said, I'm looking forward very much so to see how Tumblr solves/tackles the lack of comments. They said they have something tricky up their sleeves differentiating from traditional comment systems.

Jacob Patton23 08 200711:23AM

Great post, Jason, and I've only got one question: Do both Blogger and Twitter increment their post/tweet IDs by the same amount? Jack let on that Twitter increments its IDs by 10, and if you look at the XML version of its public timeline, you'll see that's true. (There will be a few gaps in the timeline for private tweets, but the general pattern is pretty clear.)

(In the comments on Andy's original post, Adam and Joshua discuss the ins and outs of sequential, auto-increment IDs in multiple MySQL databases, by the way.)

Ultimately, if Blogger and Twitter use the same increment value for their messages, your graphs are dead on. If not, the Twitter curve should flatten out a good bit, shouldn't it?

xian25 08 200711:25AM

what happened in november 2006? a conference i assume?

Baratunde Thurston30 08 200711:30AM

agree with @mike newman. while all your points about the 7 year difference, social aspect, etc are very INTERESTING, I don't think they explain the data as much as the 140 char limit.

Just look how @spin uses twitter. He basically disaggregates his blog posts out over 10 tweets or more.

the tweet-to-blog-post ratio might be the biggest driver of the difference in posts. the other factors you cited are still important, but my guess is they are secondary.

feel like running a regression?

I'd add another consideration. Because of the ease of publishing, the posts to twitter are very impulsive. Less thought is required. You think it; you tweet it. It's like comparing a book to a blog. I can't publish a print book every day, but I'll blog about my imaginary cat in a heartbeat. There's very little "social" to this. It's just harder to blog that to tweet.

and this is why i tweet, this is why I tweet. this is why, this is why, this is why I tweet.

Baratunde Thurston34 08 200711:34AM

for got to link the I tweet cause I tweet which was a post in response to a danah boyd question.

I go into more detail about the value of the system, especially as a micro-blogging platform.

/pd38 08 200711:38AM

I think at some point , the TCO's need to be compared too.. twitter seems to be losing traction in AU b'cos of costs.. maybe thats something to note :)-

Peter54 08 200711:54AM

Jason,
I'm down with Baratunde Thurston's comment, though I'd put it another way. Comparing quantity of messages without reference to quality or content of messages is the problem. It certainly appears to be a proxy measure for popularity or adoption. But it's a qualitatively different medium, masquerading as a similar one. I mean, your post here counts as 1.

Interesting parallel to volume measures in the finance world. The highest volume contract in derivatives world is the Kospi 200 Options, on the Korea Exchange - it's volume is 2.4 billion contracts annually, versus 240 million contracts for futures on the US treasury bond. Ever heard of the Kospi 200?

I'm hoping for a better measure, JK, of centrality or significance, or importance. Volume isn't capturing it for me, here.

Tom09 08 200712:09PM

Comparing Twitter messages to blogger posts is unfair, simply because it ignores all the comments. PArt of blogging is the back-and-forth of commenting. With Twitter, its all messages.

I'd like to see the growth of Blogger taking comments into account as 'posts'

Anonymous coward12 08 200712:12PM

Jason you seem to have missed the fact that people generally write prose on their Blogger blogs. Not 140 character messages. Comparing message counts is a very poor comparison

Sho21 08 200712:21PM

I'd like to see a graph of the number of words sent through twitter vs Blogger (including comments), not the number of messages.

jaced25 08 200712:25PM

If anybody has the time, resources, and energy, I'd like to see a similar graph showing Number of User Sign Ups (thousands) against Days Since Inception.

That'd be notable.

Jeff Clavier28 08 200712:28PM

I tend to agree with the apples-to-oranges comparison argument that a few commenters have made: you can blast 20 tweets in the time it takes to edit/proof read a blog post (at least in my case).
The metric that would be really interesting to publish - but I guess that Ev is the only one who could do it - is the comparative growth of Blogger users vs. Twitter registered users. And even that will be skewed by the fact that Twitter is very natural to adopt for bloggers who have no time on their hands to seriously post, but can still twitter when they have 30 seconds of downtime.

Jason P.37 08 2007 1:37PM

Your data is not correct, let me show you.

1) Go to Twitter.com and click on the "less than 5 seconds ago" link at top twit

2) note the id in the url after the twit loads

3) modify this to be -1 of the current twit ID, you get the lost files kitty.

4)TWITTER ID's ARE INCREMENTED BY 10!!!!!!!!

josh50 08 2007 1:50PM

I agree with everyone about the validity of the comparison that you're making here. I'd say that it's akin to comparing the number of hand-written letters to the number of e-mails sent in a day, but that's not quite correct either. The numbers are definitely interesting -- it would be awesome of you posted the raw data so that other people could play around with the scaling (maybe even by a crude average words per post for the two services).

To me, it looks like Blogger's growth is driven more by an increase in the number of users while Twittr's spike looks like a dramatic change in usage patterns. My guess is that the curve goes exponential once users started seeing the value in posting multiple status updates per day. Perhaps this was re-enforced by the explosion of back-and-forth commenting around SXSW? I know that my account sat fallow for months until it started to be adopted by more friends; I suspect that this is what happened for a lot of early adopting nonusers, too.

Stephen Glauser51 08 2007 1:51PM

Thanks for the great data. I'm concerned that the novelty of Twitter will wear off sometime later this year and its use will peak. We'll see what happens.

Gong Szeto54 08 2007 1:54PM

i kinda of agree that it's apples and oranges, like comparing the consumption rates of headlines versus articles in a newspaper or magazine. twitter messages do convey information and sometimes meanings, but they rarely convey anything deeper than that. i'd like to think that both forms co-exist, but are understood to be very different kinds of information experiences.

i must admit one thing at this point - i've been reading kottke.org for almost 6 months now, sometimes checking it a few times a day. to me most of your blog entries are headlines, which i often find incredibly valuable and fascinating. i have observed myself really enjoying your one sentence point of view on things following a link post. however, this twitter vs. blogger entry sums up what i've been hungry for from this blog since day 1 - a saliently articulated set of points-of-view.

now i'm not saying that you should long-post all the time, i am saying that in reality people consume information in bite-sized chunks (snacks) but also tend to enjoy thoughtfully developed pieces (meals). i consume both, and now that kottke.org is more than a daily trip to the bodega counter loading up on sugar and carbs, and a nice place to sit down and enjoy an exquisitely prepared meal, i think i'll stay awhile.

there may be 2 ways to interpret the twitter data - 1) the world has been craving more and more information snacks (however trivial, and twitter messages excel in this) and balance is being restored in the universe, or 2) A.D.D. is a natural stage in evolution for humans, and not to be considered a disorder at all, but a characteristic of our species.

please do indulge the reading, dining audience with more of your thoughtful and written insights. the ideas are certainly there in that smart head of yours, and these ideas are highly satisfying to consume, not unlike a meal at french laundry (and what kind of wine do you recommend with this blog post?) thanks for listening, i am a fanboy.

jkottke07 08 2007 2:07PM

I'm shutting down this thread because the above post is mostly incorrect due to bad Twitter data. Please read the updates at the top of this post...Twitter is not nearly as popular as Andy's and my analysis would indicate. More soon.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.

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