I was musing today about Twitter and Plurk, and how strongly people seem to feel about one or the other. I'm going to try to avoid all the obvious talking points here (i.e., Twitter has no threaded conversations, Plurk encourages nonsense posts, Twitter is always down, Plurk is always down, etc., etc.) and concentrate instead on market adoption. Twitter is growing its population and visitors rapidly every month (Compete pegged it at 3.4m uniques last November), and some people have said that it will become as big as Facebook this year. Meanwhile, Plurk numbers are relatively stagnant, hovering between 200k and 300k uniques. Even Friendfeed seems to be doing better (a little over 500k/month), although the difference between that and the market leader is so huge as to be almost laughable.
Let's take a moment to think about this data. In the last half of 2008, Twitter numbers almost doubled from 1.8m to 3.4m, which is a jawdropping feat in and of itself. Plurk hasn't budged since it hit its tipping point in May, and Friendfeed has grown by only about 15%. (I'm not the only one who noticed this either.)
However, remember that Compete only tracks website visits, and a significant portion of Twitter's users come to it via desktop or mobile clients. How "significant" is significant, you ask? Try 73%. Yes, roughly 3 out of 4 Twitter users access the service via a third-party client. The Compete numbers are just the tip of the iceberg then, because they don't take a huge portion of Twitter's actual usage into account. (Note that I'm not implying that Twitter.com is getting 10m uniques a month; it's highly likely that mobile/desktop numbers have some overlap with the web numbers.)
What do these figures mean to us? Well, it either means everything, or it means nothing. I try to use Plurk whenever I can because a lot of my IRL friends love it. Of course, my Plurk account is just a mirror of my real microblog at Twitter. (Some time ago, Syndeo built a Twitter/Plurk mirroring application to port our tweets over so our timelines would have more activity.) But I cannot shake the feeling that Plurk has started to fade into obscurity - popular only in the Philippines in much the same way as Friendster is, or Orkut is in Brazil, or Fotolog in Argentina. One wonders if perhaps Friendster should buy Plurk, and then resell the whole kit and caboodle to Globe Telecom?
Incendiary comments aside though, my experience with Twitter is hugely different from that of Plurk. Plugging into Twitter is almost like plugging into the Internet itself. Nearly everything that's going on in the world (and on other planets) can be viewed or subscribed to in real-time. When Twoogie got featured on Techcrunch last week, I watched for hours as hundreds of people started talking about our apps via Search.Twitter (or via the absolutely brilliant Tweetdeck). And I realized that the reason this was possible was because tweets are so granular and portable. This kind of Internet-wire-tapping wouldn't make any sense using the Plurk approach because the timeline view is too unwieldy for anything but leisure reading. (And please don't tell me to use the mobile version instead. In my mind, Plurk divorced of its signature interface is just Pownce, and we all know how that story ended.)
It's hard to predict where Plurk will go over the next 12 months. It's in a dangerous state right now; just enough users to be challenging to manage, but not enough to be a serious contender. And most depressingly, it's not growing. It's very likely that it'll be rolled into a bigger company the way Pownce was rolled into Vox, although I have a feeling that the only reason that deal happened at all was due to incestuous nature of the Valley. (The Plurk guys, conversely, are based in Ontario.)
Twitter on the other hand is on the way to hitting the mainstream, in much the same way as blogs did at the turn of the century. It's like a basic utility now, and we'll see more and more people integrate or build on top of it for a long while to come. It's difficult to peg exactly what is causing Plurk's stagnation, although there are a couple of theories out there. My own theory is that Plurk's unconventional layout is preventing it from being seen as anything other than a fancy website, when it needs to be so much more than that if it wants to compete at this level.