Twitter’s unparalleled explosion in popularity has been driven by not by teens but by a decidedly older group. That success has shattered a widely held belief that young people lead the way to popularizing innovations.
This article in The New York Times cites new ComScore data.
In fact, though teenagers fueled the early growth of social networks, today they account for 14 percent of MySpace’s users and only 9 percent of Facebook’s. As the Web grows up, so do its users, and for many analysts, Twitter’s success represents a new model for Internet success. The notion that children are essential to a new technology’s success has proved to be largely a myth.
Adults have driven the growth of many perennially popular Web services. YouTube attracted young adults and then senior citizens before teenagers piled on. Blogger’s early user base was adults and LinkedIn has built a successful social network with professionals as its target.
The same goes for gadgets. Though video games were originally marketed for children, Nintendo Wiis quickly found their way into nursing homes. Kindle from Amazon caught on first with adults and many gadgets, like iPhones and GPS devices, are largely adult-only.
Similarly, Twitter did not attract the young trendsetters at the outset. Its growth has instead come from adults who might not have used other social sites before Twitter, said Jeremiah Owyang, an industry analyst studying social media. “Adults are just catching up to what teens have been doing for years,” he said.
Almost everyone under 35 uses social networks, but the growth of these networks over the last year has come from older adults, according to a report from Forrester Research issued Tuesday. Use of social networking by people aged 35 to 54 grew 60 percent in the last year.
For Twitter’s future, young people’s ambivalence could be a good thing. Teenagers may be more comfortable using new technologies, but they are also notoriously fickle. Although they drove the growth of Friendster and MySpace, they then moved on from those sites to Facebook.
Perhaps Twitter’s experience will encourage Web start-ups to take a more realistic view of who uses the Web and go after a broader audience, said and industry observer. “Older populations are a smart thing to be thinking about, as opposed to eternally going after the 15- through 19-year-olds,” she said.