Home > Misc > Let’s Stop Gaming The Size Of The Social Media and MMO/Virtual World Universe

Let’s Stop Gaming The Size Of The Social Media and MMO/Virtual World Universe

January 2nd, 2010

I often see calculations showing the total number of people involved with social media, MMOs and virtual worlds. These calculations have been making me more uncomfortable of late, as the statistics seem only partially valid to me. I think it’s time to stop gaming the size of the universe. What does this mean, anyway? It means playing with statistics to overstate the number of people involved in social media, MMOs and virtual worlds.

Here is the standard playbook for gaming the size of the universe:

1) Make a list of companies and systems in the space of interest (Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, MySpace etc for social media, World Of Warcraft, Lord Of the Rings Online, Second Life, Blue Mars, IMVU etc for massively multiplayer games and virtual worlds)

2) Compile a list of the number of users on each system

3) Add up the numbers from each system to create a total

4) Proclaim that the total people involved is the total number of users of that category of system

The number sounds nice. Unfortunately the result is likely to be significantly overstated.

Why is this not a legitimate way to calculate the size of the social media or MMO/virtual world universe? In a word, duplication.

In my experience, people who are active in social media, MMO’s and virtual worlds tend to be involved in many systems. As far as I can tell, a significant percent of people who are active in social media, MMOs and virtual worlds will create an account on multiple (in some cases all known) new systems to check them out.

I do not have access to the information that it would take to de-duplicate the lists, and there is essentially no incentive nor ability given privacy and competitive concerns for these disparate companies to share their user lists. I think it would, however be interesting to see a fully de-duplicated count — a count de-duplicated both within each system (person who operates multiple accounts would then count as “1”) and across systems (person who has accounts on multiple systems counts as “1”).

The other little hitch is the definition of a “user.” How do you define user to count active users, and to disregard accounts that may have been created and abandoned? Do the various companies involved have any consistent definition for this statistic?

Until we somehow see that result, can we all see our way to not claiming that the universe is Twitter + Facebook + LinkedIn + … or World of Warcraft + Lord of the Rings Online + Second Life + Blue Mars + IMVU…  ?

My hunch is that it’s much closer to the size of the largest of the systems, rather than a sum of the separate ones, but that remains to be proven somehow, someday, once there is a universal common login (now I’m completely dreaming!)

Thanks for reading… all comments welcomed!

Categories: Misc Tags: ,
  1. January 2nd, 2010 at 03:42 | #1

    I share your incredulity about claims of the total number of people involved in these platforms. Given the commonplace of people with multiple accounts within a given platform, I’m not sure about your hunch as to the sum … but it would be interesting to survey some statistically relevant number of people about numbers of accounts – active or not – in an array of social media, MMOs and virtual worlds. Survey Monkey, anyone?

  2. Cindy Harris
    January 2nd, 2010 at 22:00 | #2

    Yep! Remember back in the late 90’s when companies boasted about the number of “hits” on their web sites? Same problem. I used to tell my classes that “HITS” was an acronym that stood for “How Idiots Count Success” and showed the execs and marketing types how their wemasters were “gaming” them by loading up sites with tiny little graphics all over the pages and reporting the total number of files downloaded rather than the number of unique visitors. This is essentially the same problem…

  3. Joe Cardillo
    January 4th, 2010 at 10:55 | #3

    Now that’s the truth! Probably no accurate way to count who’s actively involved, but safe to say we’re at a number (whatever it is) that says that social media and MMO/virtual worlds are here to stay and be taken seriously…..I’d be curious to see as well what kind of duplication there is, mb it’s time to find out how many social media cools are WOW fanatics =)

  4. January 4th, 2010 at 12:00 | #4

    I do agree that we’re at a point where they’re likely here to stay, although over time in some morphed form, and I’m not questioning that there are a lot of people involved.

    What originally triggered me to write this post was seeing a claim that there are currently over 1.1B social media users. After a quick check with a few sources, and noticing that they all agreed that the planet’s population is a bit under 6.7B at the moment, that would mean that out of everyone on the planet (adults, children, in developed and under-developed countries,) about one in six is using social media!

  1. January 6th, 2010 at 09:58 | #1
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