Twitter-Watching Gone So, So Wild

Almost immediately after the Silicon Valley gossip site Valleywag reported that Twitter might be in acquisition talks with Apple, everyone jumped on the rumor, from traditional media like the New Zealand Herald to United Press International to – ahem – Reuters (peHUB’s parent). So did blogs like All Things Digital, Ubergizmo and Mashable. (In defense of the blogs, they mostly splashed cold water on the latest round of “late-stage negotiations” involving the microblogging startup.)

I saw so much talk about the company Tuesday that I took a quick look through Google News in an attempt to measure the impact of Valleywag’s story. Know how many related news articles popped up? Fully 140, 84 of them from U.S.-based outlets. That search prompted me to conduct a few others, first on Factiva, which aggregates many — but by no means all — news sources, and then on Google Trends, a relatively new search index. 

According to Factiva, Twitter garnered 10,407 mentions in the last month alone. Wow.

That’s up from 7,970 mentions between March and April, 4,385 mentions between February and March, and 2,764 mentions between January and February. Six months ago, news outlets covered or referenced Twitter only 1,414 times.

This tsunami of coverage is even more apparent on Google Trends. As you can see from the below graph, the rate at which people are searching for information about Twitter is skyrocketing. 

Yesterday, former Wired and Valleywag alumnus Paul Boutin pointed out in a New York Times piece that Twitter is now the 38th most popular Web site in America. He estimates that Twitter will soon “rocket past” the Web sites of both CNN and Wells Fargo, which have long been consumer staples. (Fittingly, Boutin’s article –  “All You Need to Know About Twitter” – is rocketing up the Times’ list of most-emailed stories.) 

Because Twitter can provide instant access to the thinking of newsmakers, it is catnip for journalists, but it’s hard to believe that consumers can sustain this level of interest. Signs of a backlash are cropping up. Yesterday, for example, pundit Steve Gillmor was flamed by readers for writing an article on TechCrunch claiming that Twitter had supplanted RSS. 

Journalists are used to turning words into dollars. (Many freelancers are paid by the word.) But like Second Life,, and sundry other Web companies that have received a disproportionate amount of press attention to their market value, unless Twitter can figure out how to turn all of these article mentions into revenue, it’s more likely to experience a trip back down the sharp curve it just ascended than see the kind of payday we all keep talking about, no?