Here is a key line from the Pew Internet Project’s report on Twitter and status updating:
Twitter users engage with news and own technology at the same rates as other internet users, but the ways in which they use the technology—to communicate, gather and share information—reveals their affinity for mobile, untethered and social opportunities for interaction.
I’ll have data on this phenomenon in my upcoming report on health and social media (hint: e-patients are more likely than others to Twitter and otherwise update their status online).
If I’ve already lost you:
Read David Pogue’s Twitter column or, just to stick with the Times, read up on Facebook.
You don’t have to have an account to search Twitter for your favorite key words (power users can try searching for “hash tags” like #cancer, #rare, or for a lighter topic #haiku).
Visit some familiar people on Twitter: me, e-Patient Dave, Alan Greene, Cheryl Greene (to name a few e-patient folks).
Check out a few other health Tweeple (I refuse to use the term Twits): Carol Torgan, Ted Eytan, Jen McCabe Gorman, Craig Stoltz, and Jane Sarasohn-Kahn
Peek in on some mass audience feeds: Tim O’Reilly (tech guru), Evan Williams (CEO of Twitter), or badbanana (the crouton in my Twitter salad).
I would love to hear more stories about how health and health care has intersected with Twitter, Facebook, or other “communication protocols” as Gilles Frydman has termed it.
Susannah Fox says
Since there have been a lot of press calls (and conversation online) about the exact wording of the question, here it is:
Do you ever use the internet to use Twitter or another service to share updates about yourself or to see updates about others?
In our December 2008 survey, which is what is being reported, 11% of internet users said “yes.” We had tested this question in our November 2008 survey, when 9% said yes – that is within the margin of error of 3% so we can’t say the December result represents “growth.”
Our first question, fielded in May 2008, was worded slightly differently:
Do you ever use the internet to use Twitter or other micro-blogging service to share updates about yourself or to see updates about others?
We decided that “micro-blogging” was not a phrase in general usage and therefore cut it from the next survey.
One of our challenges is to construct survey questions that capture a phenomenon in just a few words and hopefully not completely associated with a certain brand name since we want to be able to re-visit the activity over a period of years. Yet we also want to get out in the field as quickly as possible so as to not miss the moment!
We hope that everyone not only gives us the benefit of the doubt but also contributes to improving our research! We strive to be an open-source research organization.
Gilles Frydman says
Thanks for the post & the report. Both are much needed.
Besides what you just posted we need a more descriptive post about the specific uses of twitter for medecine and for e-patients/e-health. There is much to write about! I hope to find the time to do it sometimes next week.
This could be a real eye-opener for quite a few people, since twitter is a simple communication protocol that facilitates instant delivery of well thought out information to many. From instant medical news to real-time description, from the OR, of a robot-driven cancer surgery, not forgetting advocacy and calls to support or refuse legislation of significance to patients, the realm of current uses is quite amazing.
Mark Hawker says
I like your report, but, I think people may interpret the results incorrectly. For example, your use of “or another service” suggests a bigger picture which would include services such as Facebook, Jaiku, MySpace etc. but people are interpreting it as if it is SOLELY about Twitter. Like if I asked:
“Do you ever ride the bus or any other method of transport to get to work?”
If you got results of 90% you could sensibly conclude that 90% of people ride the bus or walk, taxi, car, cycle etc. to work. However, with your Twitter question people are interpreting it as “11% of online Internet adults use Twitter”. Maybe that’s just me?
If you’d have mentioned in your question that “other services” included Facebook et al. would you have received a higher figure I wonder? After all, “other services” comprises of the majority of traffic in comparison to Twitter. I guess I’d have believed you if I’d have had the breakdown saying something like:
5% use Facebook
3% use MySpace
2% use other services (Jaiku, Yammer etc.)
1% use Twitter
What do you think?
Susannah Fox says
Gilles: You must write that post! I know you’ve been doing some cool experiments – please share the best of them.
Mark: Thanks for being on the case, both here and on Twitter. I wrote to you that “feedback is a sign of relevance” and I mean it.
The Pew Internet Project is going into our 10th year of polling about the social impact of the internet. We are always looking for new ideas, new sources, and new ways to improve our research. It is thrilling to be able to get immediate comments and questions when we release a report – and not just from reporters, which is how we did things for many years. It’s people like you, who really have the knowledge of a field (and the knives out), who make our work better.
I like your idea of unpacking all the different services in a follow-up survey. But is it possible that “tweeted” has become the “xeroxed” of 2009?
e-Patient Dave says
I heartily agree with Mark about “Twitter or another service.” Most people I talk to still giggle when I mention Twitter; second most common response in deer-in-headlights. “Posting updates” would apply to CaringBridge and Facebook. I’d definitely recommend being more specific.
btw, did you precede the question by asking “Do you know what Twitter is?” (Serious question. I’d be shocked if 11% of the general public knows.)
Carol Torgan says
The report and great comments are really thought provoking. Almost 90% of online Americans report that they do not use a service like Twitter according to these data.
On one hand I think we need to remember how many folks are not receiving wildfire alerts, getting Comcast advice or following Lance’s comeback in this manner.
On the other hand, of the 11% that use these “services”, I am extremely eager to learn more about how they are being utilized by patients, parents, caregivers. What are the lessons learned with respect to healthcare and micro-blogging? Who are we reaching and who are we excluding? How can we better educate and empower individuals via this technology? I look forward to future reports and discussion.
Susannah Fox says
Dave, we didn’t precede the question with a Twitter knowledge quiz (as a side note, when we have done this in the past we have noted that men are much less likely to say they don’t know what something is). We figured that the rest of the question would help people figure out if they are in or out of the group.
Carol, thanks for the reminder to look at the glass 90% empty! Another reminder: 75% of adults in the U.S. go online; 25% do not. On my to-do list: update Pew Internet’s “access thermometers” with our latest data on internet, home broadband, and cell phones.
It could be interesting to have a list of web applications for health consumers integrated in Facebook and Twitter. There are already some examples:
http://apps.facebook.com/whatsherdeal/ (this is an amazing quite extreme example)
Nancy Finn says
I am so glad that you have raised these issues regarding Twitter as I find the whole Twitter concept to be a bit vague. I guess the one-liner sound bites peak the curiosity and incent people to learn more. Certainly your posts on new PEW reports have me racing to the PEW website to download the reports for my research. It is interesting to speculate what shape Twitter will take at the next level and how people will view this online resource over the long term.
Carolina Jimenez says
Dear Susannah, I’m also very interested in this topic. I was part of a study looking at breast cancer groups in facebook an the purpose they were being used for (www.medicine20congress.com/ocs/index.php/med/med2009/paper/view/299)