People are talking about a report that Twitter has a low proportion of “active” users.  I saw a similar debate rage a few years ago around the definition of users of Second Life.

Amusingly (and presumptuously), today’s report claims to define “True Twitter users” as active.  They say that a True Twitter User has at least 10 followers, follows at least 10 people, and has tweeted at least 10 times.

Why should we accept this definition?  Analyses like this often come from a position of functional ignorance.  I believe that only the company can have a “Truly” meaningful definition of “active” users, and there are often good reasons that the company shouldn’t waste time debating this definition with external observers.

This is especially true when a company has an evolving revenue model.  In those cases, “active” is only meaningful in the context of a business model cycle that some people call “Startup Metrics For Pirates” because of the acronym AARRR:  Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral and Revenue.  “Active” is the second “A” here, and what matters in the definition is that customer acquisition efforts lead to active users, who participate in activity that they want to repeat and tell their friends about, which ultimately results in the company getting paid.

So if Twitter had zero customer acquisition costs, and tweeting was both addictive and viral (obviously, none of these things are strictly true), then the only definition of “active” that would matter is “user who tweets once.”  Or, if Twitter charged only users with 100K followers, and only users who had 100 followers in the first month ever get to 100K followers in their lifetime (again, not true), then the active user definition might be “user with 100 followers in first month.”  My dumb revenue models here are not the point; the point is that “active” only has meaning in context, and only the company understands that context, especially in a pre-revenue company.

Twitter, rather famously, has not publicly settled on its revenue model.  Undoubtedly they have dozens of ideas, and so they have many dozens of potential definitions of “active” – and they’re not obliged to share any of those ideas with you or me.  They don’t need to waste time with ignorant and disinterested people (myself included):  it’s no use picking over these definitions with people who are not deeply invested in the business (as employee or investor), and who therefore lack the information and commitment required to contribute productively to the discussion.

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