The number of people using Twitter has been an elusive stat to get a hold of. But a little digging in the Twitter API has revealed that only 85 million accounts – nowhere near the more than 200 million that Twitter cites as existing – have at least one follower. More stats below.
Business Insider got some real inside information on Thursday, when a source was able to use Twitter’s own API to uncover just how many Twitter accounts were actually active.
Before we get into the numbers, there are a few caveats to keep in mind.
It’s difficult to say what “active” really is on Twitter. Because you can get a lot out of following just 5 key accounts and not writing a single tweet, or even following no accounts but lots of lists, measuring activity on Twitter is not simple.
It’s partly for this reason (and likely partly because they want to present large numbers to the media) that Twitter claims 175 million accounts on their “About” page and its founders have been quoted as saying they now have more than 200 million. It’s hard to say what an “active” Twitter user is, and it’s also a boon to speak of overall accounts rather than active ones, as there are many dormant or inactive accounts that go towards bumping up the number Twitter throws out there.
So, this makes the stats from Business Insider all the more interesting: they’re a bit taboo. Twitter doesn’t want you to know how many active accounts there are, because the number will be smaller than the total number of accounts.
The source who did some digging into Twitter’s API for Business Insider was able to pull out the number of accounts being followed and following a certain number of other Twitter accounts. And this is as good a measure of activity than any other, at least on Twitter.
According to this source, there are:
- 119 million Twitter accounts following at least one other account
- 85 million Twitter accounts being followed by at least one other account
But, as Business Insider notes, this doesn’t really give us a great picture of the number of active Twitter accounts. Following one account when you signed up in May 2008 and never signing in again certainly doesn’t make you an active Twitter user, but it would put you firmly in the 119 million number.
Expanding on this a bit, their source looked at how many accounts were following at least 8, 16 and 64 accounts:
- 56 million Twitter accounts follow at least 8 others
- 38 million Twitter accounts follow at least 16 others
- 12 million Twitter accounts follow at least 64 others
So, while this isn’t necessarily the perfect measure of activity, it tells us that between 12 and 56 million Twitter users are following a fair number of fellow users. Of course, many of these accounts could be spam or hoax accounts, and many of the accounts that are following fewer than 8 users could be active in their own way. But it’s a closer estimate than Twitter’s generic 175-200 million count.
Also something to keep in mind: these figures come from data that is about a month old, and likely they are already a bit out of date – Twitter saw 460,000 new accounts per day in the month of March.