Sunday, 15 August 2010

How Twitter Changed Facebook


Earlier this week @mattwhatsit wrote a great piece highlighting the differences between facebook and twitter and it inspired this post.  Facebook is a phenomenon, twitter's the younger sibling biting at Zuckenberg's heals that's less inclusive, harder work but far more addictive.

There's 500 million of us on facebook.  Pressing 'like' buttons and sharing pictures of a day out with Granny.  Four years after I opened my account my perception of it has changed greatly, both the way I use it and my frustrations.

When I joined facebook I loved it, collected friends like they were Pokemon, updated my status everyday and hunted out acquaintances from my past that I'd not interacted with in years.  18 months ago the thought of ditching any of them would have never entered my head, the mere idea that some people didn't actually get what social media was for wasn't even fully formed in my head.  You had an account therefore you 'got it' and were part of the facebook club.  Friends joining was treated with mild internal celebration and an add request from anyone remotely fit meant that I might be 'in there'.  Exciting times.

Then in February 2009, on the very same day I started this page, I joined twitter and everything changed. 

What twitter did, almost immediately, was let me see through the façade of interaction that facebook gave me.  By starting this site I realised (and as AT has discovered) interaction is key.  Whether it's in the comments box, via twitter or facebook, you quickly become aware of who's paying attention and that led to an interesting discovery.  Many of the people that I'd know for a long time had facebook accounts that they didn't really use.  They'd maybe dip in once a week to see if they had a friend request or a message but any chance of them looking at the news feed was remote.  Others, it turned out, didn't want to know at all.  I'll be honest, I started to grow frustrated.

Twitter had shown me that people I'd never met got the site and understood, more importantly, how social media could really be used.  That interaction was not only the key element but that it was hugely rewarding.  That's not to say that all facebook users don't understand, many of them do and I've encouraged a few to join twitter and some, but not all, have embraced it.  Twitter is harder work, it takes a while to grasp and that's why there's a fair few dormant accounts around.  People join and get confused when the apparent simplicity is revealed to have more nuances than you could believe possible when you start.  There's an expectation that everyone gets the internet and I feel fortunate that I joined at a time many others did.  That original little group, with just a few followers each, felt like a real community and although we've become more disparate as time has gone on we learnt about twitter together, forgiving and forgetting the screw ups.  

What this site gave me was a platform where I can see where my 'hits' come from.  Those of you that are friends with me on both sites will know that a link goes up on both.  The split between the two is actually marginal, twitter accounts for 21% of my hits, facebook 17% but the difference in interaction is vast and that's where my frustration comes from.  At least two culls on facebook were a result of 'friends' not ever getting involved.  Childish?  Yes, a bit.  But I love doing this and the engagement from twitter is just in a different league.

Zuckenberg's monster encourages interaction between people who already know each other.  And that works to an extent, but try doing something out of the box and people will question why you've bothered.  Do something like that with twitter and it will be embraced.  That's not to say that it's a 'big love in' on twitter, it's not.  I get criticism for things I've written and there's been a fair few debates over content but that's still interaction that almost never happens on facebook that I completely welcome.  Why?  I actually think that it's about the how twitter lends itself to mobile internet access.  Yes you can open facebook on your mobile phone but it's not that easy to use, even on an iPhone it feels a bit clunky because there's so much to look at.  Twitter, with it's three columns of content, is very simple to navigate, just drop a tweet and get instant gratification from the replies.  Because everyone else finds it just as easy they're all on their mobiles too.  It's a constant stream of information that updates before your eyes in real time.  Facebook's news feed is kind of the boring older brother of that and I stopped trawling through it once it became overpopulated with news on how well you'd all done with your farms.  (Yes, I know where the hide button is, cheers.)

Facebook has almost completely become a promotional tool for this page both on my private account and fanpage.  (I actually think that I'd be happy to ditch the personal account and just stick with Diary of a Ledger page if I could.)  It's twitter that gets the real me, where any worries about privacy (for the most part) have been ditched in favour of the constant updates, twitpics, Audioboos and video's.  

Twitter is the organic social network.  It's always in a state of flux, jumping from one topic to the next, never staying on anything for long.  At times you can feel central to everything at others you can feel out on the edge looking in.  It's reflective of real life with all sorts of personalities interacting, all day long.  Facebook has its place, it does add something to my online experience it's just very different to how vital that felt four years ago.  

I've had a good moan about twitter the last few months and I still think my worries about the way some choose to use it is valid (see The Twitter Jitters Parts 1 and 2) but as a way of meeting and interacting with like minded people nothing currently beats it.  Facebook is an alluring place to visit occasionally, but I'd rather live in twitter.