As IPO nears: Do Twitter’s active user claims add up?

One expert’s analysis of 1 million accounts says not even close

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With one of the most highly hyped Internet IPOs only days away, an independent developer who is intimately familiar with the makeup and behavior of Twitter users says his analysis of 1 million random accounts does not support the company's claims of 215 million active monthly users and 100 million active daily users.

In fact, Si Dawson, who until March was sole proprietor of Twit Cleaner, a popular app used to weed deadwood and spammers from Twitter accounts, pegs those numbers at 112 million and 48 million, respectively, or about half of what Twitter claims. Having launched Twit Cleaner in 2009, Dawson says he has "spent a lot of time getting data out of Twitter and analyzing the hell out of it." You can read his analysis here.

Twitter has not responded to a request for comment.

Dawson acknowledges that his active user tallies may be lower than Twitter's because Twitter does not make log-in data publicly available to developers, as it does with other site activities such as tweets. His analysis, which he was still refining as of yesterday, is based on what he can see.

But bridging the gap between what Twitter claims and what Dawson's analysis can confirm takes at least a couple of mighty leaps.

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First of all, you have to accept Twitter's definition of an active user, which is anyone or anything who logs into an account as infrequently as once a month. It's been noted that other social platforms use the same definition, but as Dawson says, Twitter is different in that tweets are by their nature fleeting and meant to be consumed in the moment, not a day, week or month from now, as might be expected of, say, a Facebook photo collection.

Let me question that definition another way, though: If you go to the health club once a month are you actively exercising?

Second, and more important, you need to accept Twitter's contention that 40% of its active users never Tweet (either literally or not within the past month).

Dawson finds that percentage impossible to swallow. And, frankly, I do as well.

"A very common behavior for spam accounts is to spam, then immediately delete the tweets," Dawson says. "The victim sees the tweet, but Twitter won't later identify and kill the spammers."

Dawson calls the 40% claim "convenient" because "it can't be disproven."

Either way, if you're not tweeting you're not active in the generally accepted meaning of the word, you're really not.

Now someone may suggest that Dawson has an ax to grind, since Twitter's API changes earlier this year did cause him to pull the plug on Twit Cleaner. However, I can tell you exactly what prompted him to undertake this analysis: It was a tweet from me in early September.

(Twitter's 10 Most Antisocial Celebrities)

"Frankly, I love Twitter," he says. "I've met so many incredible people through it."

He just doesn't believe that 215 million people love Twitter.

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