Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Harvard Twitter Study Uncovers Big Gender Gap

Posted by Tom Foremski - June 1, 2009

A study of Twitter users conducted by Bill Heil and Mikolaj Jan Piskorski from the Harvard Business School has uncovered a surprisingly large gender gap compared with other social networks.

The study sampled 300,542 users. It found that men were twice as likely as women to follow other men, and women were 25 per cent more likely to follow a man than a woman. This is despite there being slightly more women on Twitter.

This is a big difference compared with other social networks.

On a typical online social network, most of the activity is focused around women - men follow content produced by women they do and do not know, and women follow content produced by women they know. Generally, men receive comparatively little attention from other men or from women.

The authors of the study could not explain the different gender ratios.

Another way Twitter differs from other online social networks is in how rarely a user tweets. Just over 50 per cent tweet just once in 74 days. But 10% of users create more than 90% of all tweets.

On a typical online social network, the top 10% of users account for 30% of all production.

...This implies that Twitter's resembles more of a one-way, one-to-many publishing service more than a two-way, peer-to-peer communication network.

Foremski's Take:

    I don't know how this study chose its sample of Twitter users because the 3500 I follow seem very active. However, they are mostly early adopters and thus have had longer experience with Twitter, which might help.

    Twitter is still a medium that is still in formation and creating its context. The rules are in flux and some people are not sure what is appropriate content.

    "I'm thinking of having another beer" type messages are more like twit than tweet; and inane conversations that don't use direct messaging are also falling out of favor. These are examples of rules that are still changing and thus may inhibit people from contributing more on Twitter.

    The gender difference is surprising but I predict it will even out over time and swing back to that of other social networks.

    I would guess that it is partly to do with the overt nature of posting a tweet. Women tend to be less exhibitionist, less of a rooster than a man.

    Social networks such as Facebook automatically publish a person's feed, what photos they uploaded, what events they are going to, and what videos they favored -- all without the user specifically posting that information. I would expect that this favors activities by women rather than men and could account for the gender difference. From my experience it seems that more women upload photos, etc, than men. Possibly a future study could test if this is a factor.

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