Twitter's 'dark pool': 651 million accounts abandoned

A company that monitors registrations says a vast number of users signed up and then left.

By MSN Money Partner Nov 6, 2013 5:15PM
Credit: © FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images
Caption: Twitter websiteBy Jim Edwards, Business Insider

How many users does Twitter (TWTR) have?

In Twitter's SEC disclosures, prior to its IPO this week, the company said it has 232 million users. But those aren't its total number of registered users. Instead, they are what Twitter calls "monthly active users."

Twitter has never disclosed its total number of registered users.

Traditionally, social media companies have focused on active users rather than total users because active users are the more meaningful measurement of how big or popular a service is. Twitter's monthly active user statistics show who is actually using the service, and create its value for other users and advertisers. It's the most important metric.

Total users, by contrast, measures everyone -- including people who tried it and didn't like it. Twopcharts, a company that has been monitoring Twitter registrations for years, tells us that the total number of registered Twitter accounts is currently 883 million.

That means 651 million accounts -- about four times the number of active Twitter users -- have been registered and then been abandoned by their owners.

Those 651 million accounts are Twitter's "dark pool" of users: the people who signed up and didn't like it. Their accounts continue to exist, unused, according to Twopcharts.

We asked Twitter to tell us its total number of registered users, but the company declined to comment.

Here's Twopcharts' data as of Nov. 5:

It has been known for a while that this dark pool of non-users was an issue. Wall Street analysts asked the question but got no answers on Twitter's IPO roadshow. AdExchanger reported:

“You don’t know how many people sign up and don’t use it, how many abandoned accounts they have,” said Adam Grossman, an analyst at Middleton & Co who attended a roadshow lunch presentation by Twitter executives in Boston on Thursday.

But a Reuters-Ipsos poll found that 36% of Twitter users don't use it after they've registered. By comparison, only 7% of Facebook members, in the same poll, reported not using Facebook.

A source familiar with Twitter's advertising business tells us that only 60% of Twitter's users are active. About 40% are inactive -- meaning that they simply "listen" to other tweets but never tweet themselves.

Those users -- the people who follow others but attract almost no followers themselves -- are still counted as monthly active users of Twitter. Signing in to read others' tweets still counts as "active." But those users are less valuable to advertisers. They engage less, and advertisers pay Twitter for engagement, not mere exposure.

And those inactive users are not the same as the total number of registered users, which would include people who have abandoned Twitter completely.

Nor are they the same as the 5% of Twitter accounts that are fake, meaning they belong to abusive or clone accounts operated by bots.

But how reliable are Twopcharts' numbers?

Back in 2012, Twopcharts estimated that there were nearly 500 million total registered Twitter accounts. Semiocast, a different company, said Twitter passed the 500 million registered user mark the same year. (Twitter has an ongoing program to delete spam or fake accounts, so the total number of accounts may go up or down over time.)

At the time it crossed the 500 million mark in 2012, Twitter also had an estimated 138 million active users, Twopcharts said. Which means that only 28% of its user base was active. The rest -- 362 million accounts -- had walked away.

Twitter's own SEC filings show that Twopcharts' 2012 estimate of the active user base was accurate: Twitter did indeed have 138 million monthly active users at the time.

The dark pool is not, per se, a problem for Twitter. The company's IPO disclosures are right to concentrate on the active users -- the total user population that can actually be monetized. Plenty of social media networks have inactive members, of course (most famously LinkedIn, whose members tend to check the site only when they need jobs).

Nonetheless, it's a potential brand image issue for Twitter. Twopcharts' numbers suggest that, historically, most people who use Twitter abandon it.

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Tags: TWTR
Nov 7, 2013 12:21AM
I have an account and can't log-in to it due to issues relating to my Password so after about a month of no help. I quite trying I don't even remember the name I used to join the account to begin with. It was the customer care that didn't work is why I left.
Nov 7, 2013 10:31AM
I registered for it and hated it. Seemed utterly non-sensical and I honestly didn't get the point.
Nov 7, 2013 10:52AM
I created a twitter account which lasted a whole 5 minutes and then I deleted my account, which was about 4 years ago. Twitter is annoying and useless unless being used for news and events. Other then that I don't really like following self absorbed people tweeting what they're doing every minute throughout the day.
Nov 7, 2013 12:28PM
I don't care for twitter.  I believe it is a driving force behind the shortened use of the English language (u, ur, y, etc.), and that drives me nuts. 
Nov 7, 2013 1:06PM
Another IPO of a company that doesn't actually make anything. Go ahead & sink your money into it if you want to, but I'll stick with Sturm-Ruger firearms, Sam Adam's breweries & Phillip-Morris tobacco for my stocks.  The 3 basic food groups & they actually return a profit.
Nov 7, 2013 12:52PM

Twitter will fall like a rock after the big boys get done ripping off the small guys.

Nov 7, 2013 7:15AM
Like Thomas Perez I signed up but had password issues.  I didn't get help with the problem and have since given up trying.  It has been long enough that I don't remember what name I used to sign-up but I can remember it wasn't my first choice because someone had taken the name already.
Nov 7, 2013 10:57AM

The problem with Twitter is that there is not enough space to say anything of importance or to have an intelligent conversation with someone.  I feel that they should reformat their system.

Nov 7, 2013 11:14AM

I did sign up and frankly, saw no use for it. Seems self absorbed, self promoting people that have WAYYYY too much time on their hands are the only ones that find it 'helpful' or useful. I found it annoying.

Nov 7, 2013 9:06AM
maybe they got tired of getting booted
Nov 7, 2013 1:10PM

How long before Twitter shows its true colors?  It doesn't make money and yet now has a public net worth of  john Deere.  Does that make sense?  NO.

Nov 7, 2013 10:55AM
Investors are going to buy,buy,buy. The price will run up,on hopes of huge yet to be seen ad revenues. Same as facebook.
Nov 7, 2013 9:09AM

When I have nothing to-do I make fake accounts on twitter and face book and never use them,must have 1000's by now.

Nov 7, 2013 7:17AM
Why is it some people can't write on any topic without blaming Obama and the Democrats for some imagined involvement in any problem.
Nov 7, 2013 12:05PM
I liked my twitter account and the updates on local breaking news. I hated the high data usage on my phone all the updates required so I disabled  the notices. I never post, just follow others whose ideas inspire me. Since I don't log in, I hope they don't close my account. 
Nov 7, 2013 11:32AM
I got an account and thought it was just a stupid platform. I went in 3 times or so then never used it again.
Nov 7, 2013 1:50PM

re; thomas perez, I also had an account, got message that it didn't recognize my computer, asked for answer to security question, (my place of birth) gave answer and told it was wrong so they locked me out. Called, finally got a response, told me what to do, still locked out. They said they had sent me an email with instructions, no email. after 12 contacts by phone and/or email, still no fix. told them to cancel, occasionally receive email from them asking if I was satisfied...  You know my answer.

They say the problem is they redid their format and that is why users are being denied access. The only reason that I would like to be on twitter is that some of the news outlets that I watch on TV give that as the way to comment on items being reported on.

Nov 7, 2013 11:09PM
I made an account when it first came out and forgot about until a few years later when it exploded. Still never used it. 
Nov 7, 2013 12:47PM
Do I need a cell phone to use twitter?
Nov 6, 2013 10:10PM
...and all 651 million of them registered as democrats and voted for 0bama,...and that was just in Chicago and Detroit alone!
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