Twitter6 I've done a lot of jawing about Twitter on this blog, and with good reason: I love it. It's expanding our ability to communicate, collaborate, listen and learn. What's not to like?

Still, with the candles still warm on Twitter's fifth birthday cake, some folks are claiming it isn't nearly as popular as all the hype makes it out to be.

Twitter claims it has more than 175 million registered users, but a report from Silicon Alley Insider (shared socially by Chris Brogan and Tom Hood, among others) found that just a fraction of that number — somewhere between 20 million and 40 million — follow enough people to make Twitter a useful tool. To wit: Of those 175 million registered users:

  • About half follow two or more people.
  • About 10 percent follow more than 50 people.
  • Only 1.5 million follow more than 500 people.

The shorthand is this: Far fewer people are actually using Twitter than Twitter would have you believe.

Here's my reaction: Who cares?

First of all, Twitter's avid users have known for a while that many registered “users” have never actually used the site. They signed up and then did … nothing. They shared nothing, they followed no one, and their accounts went dormant. Eliminate them from the equation. They're dead weight.

Now, here's my real problem with the report: It bases Twitter's value on the number of people you follow. That's an empty metric. As Seth Godin once said, it's like basing the success of your website on the number of hits it receives. It doesn't mean anything.

The question is this: Do the people you follow add value to your world? If so, it doesn't matter if you follow two people or 200,000 — Twitter is valuable to you.

You don't actually have to be tweeting to get value from Twitter, either. There's a lot to be gained and learned simply by lurking and reading what others are saying. No less an authority than Twitter co-founder Biz Stone says as much.

“What's happened over time is that I've switched from tweeting a lot to consuming a lot of tweets,” Stone told NPR's Scott Simon. “That's based on the idea that you don't have to build a web page to get value out of the Internet. The same is true for Twitter. You don't need to actually tweet to get value out of Twitter.”

As with any other social tool, it's a much richer experience if you give a little in return, but I understand what he's saying.

And for the record, I follow 1,746 people on Twitter. That's probably too many, but you're all so darned valuable!

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