People who sign up for Twitter, post once, then never return.

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June 8 2009 11:41 AM

Orphaned Tweets

When people sign up for Twitter, post once, then never return.

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty. Click image to expand.

After examining some 300,000 Twitter accounts, a Harvard Business School professor reported last week that 10 percent of the service's users account for more than 90 percent of tweets. The study dovetails with recent analysis by the media research firm Nielsen asserting that 60 percent of Twitter users do not return from one month to the next. Both findings suggest that, thus far, Twitter has been considerably better at signing up users than keeping them.

Which got us to thinking—there must be a legion of Twitterers out there who sign up, tweet once, and never return. In the spirit of the great blog One Post Wonder, "a collection of blogs that have one post," we set out to find these orphaned tweets. Different people obviously have different tweet metabolisms, but we decided that any account that's been dormant for at least six months is fair game. We found several thousand of them.

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Naturally, many orphan tweets betray skepticism about microblogging. "I don't get it... what's the point of this thing?" read ben_pursell's first and last tweet. "Twitter deez nutz," remarked beebles, rather caustically, before signing off for good. Yet a surprising number of one-and-done Twitterers demonstrate keen enthusiasm, leaving us to ponder what led them to change their minds:

sk8ie I'm here!
7:42 AM May 16th, 2008

micatron sign me up damn it!
9:28 AM Sep 11th, 2008

treyharness This technology is awesome. If you haven't signed up already, do it now so we can all stay connected. Its much easier than email or phone.
7:25 PM May 7th, 2008

Some one-time users don't seem to understand what kind of service they've signed up for.

brittanyblevins what kind of donuts are you offering?
12:23 PM May 8th, 2008

reginarowland    o1o6AqhQ0B
9:46 PM May 19th, 2008       

pmosterday Director of Advancement
12:55 PM Nov 20th, 2008

The lion's share of these singular postings describe a discrete experience or a current mood. This is probably because an orphan tweet is also a first tweet, and first-timers typically stick to answering the question hovering above the Twitter dialog box: "What are you doing?"

beckysomsel heading north for a party!
6:44 AM Dec 5th, 2008

anord04 eating a miniature pie
10:21 AM Jun 23rd, 2007      

kttheet   Wearing a gigantic t-shirt (2XL).
9:56 PM Apr 22nd, 2008

apsolutely4me picking lint from Judy's naval while she is napping!
4:10 PM Sep 7th, 2008

ChristianDA Designing performance nutrition for Navy SEALs. Fighting government corruption (tall order). Telling American stories.
12:58 PM Nov 28th, 2008

Because orphan tweets are followed by a long silence, these ephemeral status reports take on a strange permanence. Is anord04 still working on that miniature pie? Was it bigger than it first seemed?

Reading many of these one-offs, you can't help but wonder whether some tragedy has come between the user and his second post.

Phillyrules it hurts to breathe. should I go to the hospital?
10:09 PM Aug 23rd, 2008     

muthuboss life is hopeless ......  
10:26 PM Jul 6th, 2008

rvictor   Trying to escape this insanity
7:24 PM Jan 7th

jeffreyshardy Sitting next to a big, hairy, smelly guy on the bus
5:04 PM Feb 11th

DouglasAllen  I am writing an email to the makers of Spray N Wash to thank them for making a product that got the blood stains out of my new PJs and robe.   
7:40 PM Aug 27th, 2007       

Not all orphan tweets inspire such macabre thoughts. At their best they resemble found art, an index of first lines of poems that have yet to be written:

mundial marching backwards toward the source of the four winds       
9:45 AM Jul 17th, 2007

stonelove27 I am standing behind my nose...    
11:59 AM Sep 5th, 2007

ladydrea Marcus Aurelius! You are loved! (I'm typing now...)   
10:53 AM Jun 7th, 2008

newdayrising sold your soul to Jesus for a carton of yoghurt. He doesn't even like yoghurt that much.     
12:48 PM Mar 31st, 2008

boustanyn Getting ready for the third phase of life on this earth....        
12:51 PM Nov 17th, 2008

bkennedy weeping gently     
2:47 PM Mar 30th, 2007

In at least one instance, two orphan tweets appear to have been in conversation.

marcbresseel getting ready for cannes - printing latest briefing - I hate folding my shirts 8:36 AM Jun 14th, 2008

Kolcott @Marcbresseel You fold your shirts?
9:13 AM Jul 10th, 2008

A lone call followed by a lone response; a social network of two.

While we found thousands of orphan tweets, our search was by no means comprehensive. Slate readers, let us know if you've come across orphan tweets in your travels across the Twitterverse. Send your favorite examples to slateculture@gmail.com, and we'll publish them in a follow-up on Brow Beat, Slate's new culture blog. Also, if any of the authors of the orphan posts featured here happen to read this, please send us an e-mail and tell us why you quit. To verify your identity, we'll ask you to log back in to Twitter and file that long-awaited second tweet.

Update, Monday, June 8, 5:18 p.m.: Some good orphan tweets arriving via e-mail from Slate readers so far. Here's another idea: If you find a great one, retweet it and add this hashtag: #orphantweet. This way there will be a collection of orphan tweets that folks can peruse on Twitter.

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor.

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