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Twitter Filled With 'Pointless Babble,' Study Finds

With the recent glut of media attention lavished on Twitter as the great, transformative communications platform of our time, it perhaps shouldn't be surprising to see a research firm take a stab at quantifying what, exactly, people are saying on the microblogging service.

One such effort comes from Pear Analytics, which recently analyzed a sample of 2,000 tweets and organized them into six categories: News, Spam, Self-Promotion, Pointless Babble, Conversational and Pass-Along Value.

The results? Pear Analytics declared pointless babble the winner, comprising 40.6 percent of the tweets in the sample.

That would suggest that for many, Twitter remains an unsophisticated vehicle for folks who take its essential question -- "What are you doing?" -- at face value, and offer the world status updates about things like shopping for produce or waiting in line at Starbuck's.

But in close second at 37.6 percent of the content Pear Analytics analyzed was the conversational category, which tallied any tweets beginning "@username," Twitter code for responding to another user's post.

Pass-along value (defined as any retweeted entry, tagged "RT") checked in at a distant No. 3, with 8.7 percent of the content, followed by self-promotion (5.9 percent), spam (3.8 percent) and news (3.6 percent).

"Some felt it was their source of news and articles, others felt it was just a bunch of self-promotion with very few folks actually paying attention," said study author Ryan Kelly. "But mostly, many people still perceive Twitter as just mindless babble of people telling you what they are doing minute-by-minute; as if you care they are eating a sandwich at the moment."

So is Twitter still searching for its utility? The marginal news value described in the study runs counter to the perception of Twitter as a front-line reporting vehicle in chaotic situations like the protests following the recent Iranian election or the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

Or, the relatively small percentage of substantive content on the site could also be a symptom of Twitter's volume. In April, comScore estimated that Twitter boasted 32 million users worldwide, a 1,905 percent increase over the previous year.

Kelly said that he set out on the study with the hypothesis that Twitter was mainly used as a promotion tool, where companies pitch products through the site.

When the self-promotional category checked in at just under 6 percent of the tweets analyzed (from Monday through Friday, 11 am to 5 pm), Kelly said he was surprised.

"This may be enlightening to some folks, as there appears to be a flurry of companies and businesses joining Twitter to promote products and services," he said.