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    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
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Twitter, unlike Facebook, is socially mobile

The reciprocity of relationships is, in my opinion, the most fundamental difference between Facebook and Twitter. On Facebook, both sides need to agree before the connection is made. On Twitter, people can follow whoever they like.

Does this make Twitter more “social”? I think it might.

I’m writing in broad terms, since different people use the services in different ways, but this makes Twitter aspirational. The more socially mobile, to reuse the pun from my title.

Facebook is who you know. Twitter is who you want to know.

Facebook reinforces social conventions. Twitter does not.

Facebook maintains the status quo. Twitter breaks it.

Facebook is about the past. Twitter is about the future.

Facebook is a constant reminder of our past actions and relationships. Nostalgic of both the recent and distant past.As Don Draper points out in this scene (embedding is disabled, but I’d recommend watching or rewatching it), nostalgia literally means “the pain from an old wound”. This is powerful, but also static.

It is about who we know and what we did.

The good moments but also the bad.

The people we’re glad we’ve stayed in touch with, but also those we’d rather keep in our past.

Yet the social pressure is there to accept these reconnections and intermingle the different worlds and circles of our past (I’m sure Don wouldn’t appreciate that). These relationships are hugely powerful, but they’re not the whole story.

Twitter is about the future. It is social networking in terms of forging new connections, rather than maintaining old ones.

We seek out people who we perceive to have similar interests or ideas to our own.

We recommend people to one another.

We follow macro and micro celebrities, whether to vicariously bask in the reflected glow or to learn from them.

Whatever our motivations, we are able to do this. There is no requirement to justify the people we follow. Likewise, there is no pressure to reciprocate when an individual (Or organisation. Or bot) follows us.

This fluidity of Twitter is a major advantage it has over Facebook. And if Facebook is seeking to keep more of our browsing behaviour within its network, it is something it needs to address.

It’s not just about who we are. It’s also about where we want to be.


Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/eyermonkey/2842941601/

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6 Responses

  1. The only two things that keep me from deleting my Facebook profile is that 1. it is good for messaging groups of people and 2. the events section is useful, otherwise I would wash my hands of it.

  2. @Alice – But even Facebook’s event-organising utility is getting really degraded by the fact that every club or campaign you follow will keep sending you event invitations – so nobody responds to the genuine party/dinner invites. My friends are returning to organising these things by email, as it feels more personal now.

    @Simon – You say Twitter’s the interweb-social future here, and I agree – though will it ever become this for the majority of users? I might be making connections on Twitter (as @hautepop), but most of my RL friends *don’t* use it to talk to people they don’t know. They follow celebrities, but is that much different to buying Heat magazine for the “What’s Brangelina doing next?” gossip? Instead you get accounts like @whyrename or @megblight, with 20-ish friends and fairly sporadic activity. That’s what Twitter looks like for 90% of its users – those of us taking advantage of its social fluidity are a minority.

    And an observation: “social networking in terms of forging new connections, rather than maintaining old ones” was what we were doing online back in the 90s. Your real-life friends weren’t online then, so you had to talk to strangers, be it on chatrooms, Usenet, mailing lists or early blogging sites like Open Diary and LiveJournal… The mainstream quite quickly picked up the potential for the internet to widen one’s intellectual horizons – but the possibility that it might widen social horizons too took longer to be accepted. I’d posit that it’s dating sites that pioneered this in the mainstream, not Twitter – was it about 2007 or 2008 when it stopped being taboo to admit you met your partner online?

  3. Hi Jay – you make some great points. Of course not everyone “wants” to be social and so in this respects Twitter will never be the size of a Facebook since more “effort” is involved in forging these connections. Nevertheless, among the minority that are interested in networking, FB is currently at a major disadvantage. It might only take a public/private check box next to all activity to change this situation, but given the privacy issues that are raised every time FB tries something new, it may not emerge for some time

  4. Hi there …

    Just because you can follow people on Twitter without seeking the individuals permission doesn’t mean it’s more social … it just means it has the potential to be more social … because ultimately isn’t sociability based on a level of continuous interaction?

    What I mean is that whilst Facebook may require both parties to agree before communication can commence, it implies there is a desire for that to happen whereas on Twitter, it simply allows unsolicited stalking or bombardment to begin.

    Of course I’m taking it to extremes … but maybe we need to define the word ‘social’ because in its current guise I think it’s more about having the ability to be connected rather than actually being so – which in itself is quite interesting.

  5. Sure thing – “social” is a broad term and so can get into semantic issues. There are multiple types of connection, with both extremes confimed with a legal contract (marriage and restraining order). However, Twitter lets you traverse these types far more fluidly and thoroughly than Facebook

  6. I think what we need is a platform that’s not just about the past or future, but both past and future — and present while they’re at it. Also, something that doesn’t always put your entire life “out there” for “everyone” to see. I mean let’s admit it, even our “friends” on Facebook aren’t really ALL our friends right? So here’s the solution and a link to everything you’ll need to know about Memfy: http://goo.gl/gXde5J

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