Twitter, the social networking phenomenon embraced by celebrities including Stephen Fry and Russell Brand, is Britain's fastest-growing website, it emerged yesterday. Traffic on the "micro-blogging" website has risen 22-fold in a year, faster than any other site, according to the internet analyst Hitwise.
The soaring interest has propelled Twitter from its position as the UK's 969th most-visited site last year to 38th today. It was the 84th most popular social network in 2008; now it is ranked fifth. Eden Zoller, an analyst at Ovum, said: "It is successful because it is easy and effective. It has the 'cool' factor being used in political demonstrations in Iran and London, and people who are curious about the celebrities who use it."
Twitter was founded by Biz Stone, Jack Dorsey and Evan Williams in 2006, but 2009 has been its breakthrough year, Hitwise said, with 93 per cent of its growth coming since January.
Robin Goad, director of research at Hitwise, added: "It hasn't suffered from going up against Facebook like MySpace and Bebo. If it has carved out a big enough niche, Twitter could certainly grow this year and maintain its position after that."
The problem facing the founders is to change the site from a social networking phenomenon into something that actually generates revenue. It has so far rejected the advertising models used by rivals including Facebook.
Mr Goad said: "Given that Twitter has yet to settle on a business model that will take advantage of its huge, loyal user base, this is an issue that needs to be addressed if they are to make the service a financial as well as a popular success."
This week, Mr Stone told the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival that while 2008 had been about building the technology, the plan this year was to focus on generating revenue. He said Twitter would talk to companies that used its platform to communicate with customers, including Dell and Whole Foods Market. Earning revenue "would send out a signal that we're building a company of enduring value", he explained.
Ms Zoller added: "Growing will not be a problem for Twitter, but just getting bigger isn't enough. It is a fantastic application in search of a business model."