Depending on the source, Twitter is either the manic future of digital connection or the most overhyped online trend. A look at the data reveals a more nuanced reality with implications for learning.
by Mike Prokopeak
January 20, 2010
<p>More people are using social networking tools than ever before, and the number continues to grow at a significant rate. A closer look at the data reveals developing trends in the learning industry.</p><p>Data released by the Pew Research Center in October 2009 indicates that 19 percent of Internet users say they use Twitter or another service such as Facebook, LinkedIn or MySpace to show updates about themselves or to see updates about others. That’s up from 11 percent in April 2009 and 6 percent in May 2008.<br /><br />Twitter’s growth has been the talk of the Twittersphere, so to speak. According to analysis from comScore, traffic grew from about 2 million unique visitors a month in December 2008 to more than 17 million in May 2009. Web analytics firm Compete reported that traffic grew 752 percent in 2008, and Nielsen Online reported a 1,300 percent year-over-year increase in visitors in February and March 2009.<br /><br />That growth has largely been driven by young people, according to the Pew surveys. Thirty-seven percent of Internet users ages 18 to 24 use Twitter or another similar service, 31 percent ages 25 to 34 and 19 percent ages 35 to 44.<br /><br />But since then, Twitter’s growth has sputtered. Numbers from Compete and Web analytics firm Quantcast indicate that Twitter’s Web traffic peaked in July 2009 and has gradually dropped off since. U.S. traffic in December 2009 was 22.81 million unique visitors, up slightly from 22.48 million in November. In Web circles, that 1.45 percent month-over-month growth is anemic and represents a significant drop from the 29.2 million users who logged on to Twitter in July. <br /><br />There are many potential explanations for the drop, including speculation that the traffic numbers don’t capture the growing number of users who access their Twitter profiles via third-party applications as well as the inevitable hangover following the glut of high-profile celebrity users who flocked to Twitter. Regardless, Web trends seem to indicate that Twitter traffic isn’t maintaining its staggering growth rate.<br /><br />Looking at the learning and development data reveals an even more complex picture. According to statistics from a survey of the <em>Chief Learning Officer</em> Business Intelligence Board conducted in September 2009, social networking is simultaneously one of the most important topics in enterprise learning and development and one of the most overhyped.<br /><br />The survey asked respondents to indicate what topics should received more attention in 2010. Social networking received the second highest number of respondents (9 percent), immediately following another related topic, informal learning (12 percent). Interestingly, survey respondents indicated that social networking is also the most overhyped learning topic and should be dropped entirely (12 percent).<br /><br />“What that shows to most organizations is that they haven’t figured out how to put it in the dynamics of their training and development and talent management practices,” said IDC analyst Cushing Anderson. <br /><br />This apparent contradiction hasn’t stopped vendors from rolling out new products that integrate with social networking tools. In September 2009, Taleo unveiled a new version of its talent management software, Taleo 10, which includes new development and collaboration tools, along with Facebook and mobile integration. Plateau Systems introduced its Talent Gateway the same month, aiming to integrate Web-based communication tools into its offerings.<br /><br />Last week, Saba hired Jim Lundy, a veteran Gartner analyst of social software and collaboration, as vice president and general manager of collaboration to guide development of the company’s software offerings in collaborative technologies and social networking.<br /><br />“He has always recognized our vision and the vision of our customers and is the ideal person to be leading our efforts in the collaboration area,” said Saba CEO and Chairman Bobby Yazdani of Lundy’s hiring.<br /><br />As the new offerings and moves from industry vendors indicate, social networking and collaboration tools will continue to rise on the learning and development agenda, but perhaps not as rapidly as they have in the past. Elliott Masie, CEO of the The Masie Center, said that social networks will mature this year to allow learning practitioners to design and deliver development.<br /><br />“Right now, most social networks — either at work or in our personal lives — are places to visit, interact or just gawk,” he wrote in the January issue of <em>Chief Learning Officer</em>. “But most social networks do not allow instructional designers to design an actionable request.”<br /><br />IDC’s Anderson agrees that organizations are maturing in their approach to social networking tools, such as Twitter.<br /><br />“What’s happened now is that we’re getting better at applying certain kinds of technologies more appropriately, and I think social networking as a general peanut butter that we spread over our entire talent practices is probably a little overdone.” </p>