January 21, 2010, 6:52 PM — Twitter isn't growing as fast as before, according to a new report by HubSpot. The microblogging service grew by only 3.5% in the month of October. That's down from a peak of 13% in March. HubSpot also reports less traffic to the main Twitter.com site.
Additional data seemed to contradict that news: The average Twitter user is far more "engaged" and active than before. The average user is following a lot more people, is followed by a lot more people and is posting a lot more.
So what's going on?
First of all, we can ignore the twitter.com traffic numbers. Third-party clients abound, and when users switch from Twitter.com to a third-party, that's a meaningless event as far as understanding Twitter.
The data verifies what we active users have perceived on the site. The trend-followers, Oprah fans, curious tire kickers and others have gotten bored or frustrated and wandered away. Meanwhile, the kinds of people who can take advantage of Twitter are really getting into it and getting more out of it.
In other words, the fad is over. But that's a great thing for Twitter. All that does is improve the signal to noise ratio of the content you can find on Twitter. If this trend continues, we may see fewer Fail Whales of the kind we suffered Wednesday morning.
For a relatively small number of people, Twitter is a lifesaver. In the case of Haiti this week, I mean that literally. But for others, I also mean it figuratively.
Small business owners, authors and others are using Twitter to build community, and as the best source of breaking news ever invented.
People like Bill Gates, who joined Twitter this week, can get a lot out of it, and drum up community and enthusiasm around various projects unfiltered by the media. Meanwhile, people like Ricky Gervais (who normally gets paid a massive amount of money for his vaguely amusing ideas -- he earns big royalties for every episode of every national version of "The Office" in the world), doesn't get Twitter at all and has left the service. And that's how it should be. Both Gates' coming and Gervais going improve Twitter.
Now that Twitter growth has finally come down to Earth, and the people who don't get it wander away, the service has become far better for those of us who love it.