If you like using Twitter, you can thank traditional media for making Twitter possible. That's something I read recently in a new book (yes, an ink-on-paper book, or to echo Ikea's brilliant new YouTube video about its latest catalog: a bookbook). The BIQ (book in question) is A Social Strategy: How We Profit from Social Media, written by Mikolaj Jan Piskorski (Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0-691-15339-1).
Piskorski, by the way, is an associate professor of business administration and the Richard Hodgson Fellow in the Strategy Unit at Harvard Business School.
Early on in the book, Piskorski recalls how Twitter got started ("as a podcast directory company called Odeo founded...in 2005") and explains how early fame on the Internet and even a couple of big mentions in the digital world didn't get many users for the service by 2007 or so. According to Piskorski, the number of Twitter users then was around 80,000 at best, but the number of users spiked abruptly thanks to forest fires near San Diego in October 2007 and traditional media in the form of the Los Angeles Times: "The number of users began to grow a little bit faster when Twitter attracted substantial attention from traditional media," he says. People near the fires started tweeting about what they were seeing, and the Times jumped on the bandwagon by putting a Twitter feed on the home page of the paper's Web site and "frequently used the tweets to inform its own reporting" Net result: Twitter's traffic levels went to between 400,000 to 1.2 million visitors by the end of 2007.
Piskorski explains the big boost for Twitter came in 2008, "Twitter's real breakthrough happened when TV finally took note." CNN News in 2008 integrated Twitter into its iReport program (its citizen journalism initiative). Once CNN put a little Twitter feed on the air, the number of users started climbing.
By the way, in his recently published book (Things a Little Bird Told Me) about the founding of Twitter, founder Biz Stone credits comments made at a South by Southwest gathering around the same time for the lift in the number of users. We find Piskorski's analysis more compelling than Stone's anecdotes.