Tweet counters: I can’t trust them

It’s nearly impossible to find out how many times a web page has been tweeted. At 11:45 Thursday night, I gathered these numbers to help explain what I mean.

Tweet button: 12

A Mashable blog post about Bit.ly was tweeted 12 times (as of 11:45 Thursday night). At least that’s what the official Twitter button widget said on the post itself.

Tweet button count for a Mashable post

Twitter search: 73

I clicked on that 12 button, which brought me to a Twitter search for tweets linking to that page … and I counted 73 tweets, not 12.

Bit.ly: 99

I randomly pulled up one of those tweets, and checked out the statistics provided by bit.ly. Scrolling down the page to “conversations” revealed 99 tweets, not 73 and certainly not 12.

BackType: 794

Armed with my BackType bookmarklet, I decided to go to a fairly unrelated source for some numbers. Oh no, the BackType page for that Mashable post, showed a whopping 794 tweets. That’s more than four times the tweets counted by Bit.ly, Twitter search, and the tweet button combined.

Tweetmeme: 898

When Twitter rolled out its own tweet button, they partnered with  Tweetmeme, creators of the old “retweet” button. I wanted to see what the veteran service had to say. The Tweetmeme search for that Mashable post found more tweets than any of the other methods: 898 tweets.

Trust

Yes, this is only one example, and a very non-scientific experiment. But I performed this little exercise because I see these discrepancies all the time, especially with popular posts/pages. Of course, one anecdote doesn’t prove that all counters are wrong, but with so many services disagreeing on one simple number, I simply can’t bring myself to trust any of them to be right.

t.co to the rescue?

One service might be able to provide the one tweet count to rule them all. Sometime this year, Twitter plans to wrap “all links shared on Twitter.com or third-party apps” within its own t.co URL. It will become part of the Twitter infrastructure. If Twitter can aggregate the many different URLs that are used to share a single web page, then it will be able to provide an accurate count of tweets linking to that page.

Twitter will also track clicks on those links. If I were in there shoes, I would consider charging for those t.co statistics.

One thought on “Tweet counters: I can’t trust them

  1. This is interesting. I mean the whole concept of finding all of the Retweets on a given post is interesting. I gave up on the idea long ago. Here's a couple more resources that I would add to the list Social Mention and Ice Rocket. I'm sure you'll find even more missing data :)
    What I'm more concerned with is finding all of my @mentions. It seems impossible to do and I've used most of the tools you mentioned along with HootSuite and the 2 I mentioned earlier. I'm not sure we'll ever capture everything. BTW – do you use Topsy? I've heard it picks up things that Tweetmeme misses. Good luck!

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