A new study by MIT, which seeks to understand Twitter’s “contagion process,” has found that news media played a crucial role in the site’s growth. The study tracked development from 2006 to 2009, and also found that more traditional forms of social networking, like geographic closeness, were an important factor in Twitter’s initial diffusion.

The authors of the paper, which is set to appear in the journal PLoS ONE, used Google Insights for Search to track weekly news stories from Google News searches. Spikes in Twitter adoption corresponded with news coverage. One example was Ashton Kutcher’s challenge to CNN to see who could attract 1 million followers first. Kutcher won by half an hour, gaining an invite from Oprah Winfrey who also sent out her very first tweet. As news about Twitter increased, so did its number of users.

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