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Twitter: storm in a teacup or a glimpse of Australia?

No longer just for geeks, Twitter has grown rapidly in Australia since launching in 2006. But it still  has only a fraction of the local audience Facebook commands.

A study confirms that in Australia, Twitter ranks second in the fierce battle for users being waged by social media sites, with 2.8 million users. That compares to Facebook's 12 million.

This means almost one in two Australians have a Facebook account, compared to one in 10 who have a Twitter account.

This gap may be why the newly-listed Twitter has been notoriously cagey in sharing its user numbers.

While  it actively seeks out opportunities to share the number of accounts involved in a particular digital event or discussion, this is the first time an independent number based on more than an estimate has been released.

The new figures revealing the total number, as well as the state and city breakdown of Australian tweeters, comes from research conducted by the Queensland University of Technology rather than the company itself.


Research co-ordinator Axel Bruns  said they were motivated to embark on the project to get some clarity about the breadth of local Twitter users.

The geographic distribution of the accounts within Australia is largely in line with population spread. Sydney had almost 400,000 accounts, Melbourne more than 320,000 and Brisbane 138,000. Perth clocked in with 119,000 accounts and Adelaide with 76,000.

Smaller capital cities also boasted user numbers in the thousands. Canberra has 30,000, Darwin 12,000 and Hobart 9000. More than 420,000 accounts could not be linked to a particular state or city.

The research team went through almost 2 billion registered Twitter IDs and parsed the publicly available information in the short user biographies connected to each account.

Of these account IDs, the team identified almost 750 million accounts worldwide that had either created a bio or tweeted at least once.

The accounts captured are both personal and professional or company accounts. Accounts which have never uploaded any information could not be captured by this process, a factor Mr Bruns says makes their numbers conservative.

The team then honed in on details such as location, if the account was set to an Australian time zone, and if the summary included key words such as Australian or more colloquial versions such as Straya.

Mr Bruns said that ''2.8 million is in the zone I was expecting, given previous estimates. I’ve heard that Twitter itself is promoting 4 million accounts in Australia. We’re not close to that and I would treat Twitter’s own number with some degree of suspicion. They may be counting all sign-ups, and maybe not account deletions''.  

Mr Bruns said their research has only just begun.

''We captured this data in September 2013. When we do it again in 2014, we can start to get a sense of the attrition rate, and whether or not Twitter is actually growing.''

Since 2010, the average amount of new accounts created by Australian users was 45,000. The sign-up rate peaked at more than 100,000 in early 2009, and rose again to 80,000 in August last year. 

He said the research won't capture definitively how many users are on the platform regularly. Any external research won't be able to capture accounts that are using the social network but not issuing their own tweets.

He said the only definitive geographic breakdown could come from Twitter, which does not reveal the internet service provider address of their users that could be used to pinpoint user locations.

Twitter is one of the oldest social networks, with the company founded in 2006, just two years after Facebook.

In recent years, the regular tweaks to Twitter have focused on allowing easier image sharing, perhaps in a move to counter rapidly growing social media sites such as photosharing Instagram (200 million users worldwide) and Snapchat (50 million, according to Forbes estimates).

In 2012 Twitter stopped displaying Instagram images within the site, instead forcing users to click on a link to view the image.