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Pew: Twitter a Status Symbol on the Web

The microblogging phenomenon is inching a little closer to mainstream.

Researchers at the Pew Internet and American Life Project polled Internet users and found that 11 percent are using Twitter and similar short-form online message services or status updates.

Pew conducted a similar survey in May 2008, asking Internet users about their usage of Twitter and other microblogging services such as Yammer. The recent survey asked respondents if they used Twitter or any other online service that allowed them to update their status, a common feature on social networking sites.

"Facebook and its ilk are clearly playing a big part here," Amanda Lenhart, a co-author of the report, told InternetNews.com.

The most recent survey, taken in December, found a sharp increase in uptake of Twitter-like services. In a similar study just the previous month, nine percent of Internet users said they were using online services to update their status. In the more targeted study in May, when Pew limited the focus to microblogging services, six percent answered in the affirmative.

Profiling the Twitter set, Pew found that they are prone to mobile computing, frequently dashing off status updates from their smartphones or laptops using a wireless connection.

Broken down by age group, the study's demographic findings follow a predictable line. Young people are far more likely to update their status online than older Internet users.

Roughly 20 percent of online adults between the ages of 18 and 34 said they use status-update services, compared with four percent of adults between the ages of 55 and 64, and just four percent of those 65 and older.

The researchers reported the unsurprising finding that Twitter users were highly likely to engage with other forms of social media. But less intuitive was the data point about the median ages of various Web 2.0 communities.

Twitter users have a median age of 31, compared with 26 years of age for Facebook, 27 for MySpace and 40 for LinkedIn.

The report also hinted at an emerging legitimacy that Twitter has been earning in the realm of citizen journalism. When terrorists overran Mumbai, India last November, witnesses to the scene blasted out tweets describing burning hotels or assuring loved ones they were okay long before media outlets arrived to cover the story.

Similarly, when U.S. Airways flight 1549 made its emergency landing in the Hudson River last month, unforgettable photos of the scene began showing up on Twitter feeds long before they appeared on news sites.