Oprah's Midas touch gives Twitter a 43% boost

Talk show queen fires off her first Tweet and brings her audience along for the ride

It seems Oprah Winfrey's Midas touch isn't limited to a talk show, brownies and books.

She has the same effect on Twitter use, according to Heather Hopkins, an analyst at Hitwise U.S., a company that measures online traffic. Last Friday, the queen of daytime TV made her first Tweet --- live on The Oprah Show. And as fate would have it, Oprah joined Twitter just days after actor Ashton Kutcher beat CNN in a much-publicized battle to be the first Twitterer to gain 1 million followers.

It was, to put it simply, a celebrity-filled week for Twitter, which was once considered a geek's best friend.

According to Hitwise, the number of U.S. visits to Twitter jumped 24% from last Thursday to last Friday, when Winfrey posted her first Tweet and Kutcher appeared on her show to discuss Twittering. Twitter visits on the day were up a robust 43% from a week earlier, Hitwise added.

And 37% of those visiting Twitter on Friday, April 17 were new visitors, reported Hopkins.

The search term oprah twitter was the No. 35 highest search term with the word twitter last week and the No. 7 most common one with the word oprah, according to Hopkins. "Considering that our search data is weekly and that the show only aired on Friday, this is impressive," she said.

Last week, the Internet was abuzz with talk of whether or not all this mainstream media attention is changing Twitter. Are the likes of singer Britney Spears, Kutcher and Oprah taking the microblogging site in a different -- and arguably frivolous, nontechnology or nonbusiness -- direction?

Some longtime Twitterers may just feel like they're being punk'd.

"The attention that the competition for followers is getting is not a great thing," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research Inc. "Anyone thinking of Twitter as something useful in business or in journalism is going to be kind of put off by this."

However, in a recent interview, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said it's natural for people to be protective of the serious Twitter community, but he predicted that the site will grow and expand to wherever its users take it.

"People talk about the Twitter community, but I think there are a lot of Twitter communities," he said, adding that there are features they could add to the site that might help ease the growing pains. "As it grows, it breaks up into many, many subcommunities. In general, I trust folks to work things out on their own."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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