Could Twitter's transcendent clarity trump Facebook?

Like email, IM, and text messaging before it, Twitter is destined to become a common communication tool familiar to all. What might be less clear is the long term fate of particular social networks like Facebook and Linkedin.

How could this make sense? Facebook and Linkedin already have considerable revenues. Twitter has zero. They also have far more users than Twitter. And so on. Some have even said Twitter is not a business.

Yet Twitter has a kind of transcendent clarity.

It’s not that Twitter now tops the list of fastest growing social networks or that Facebook offered to buy Twitter for $500 million.

The moment I was introduced to Twitter, my eyes got big. I saw something simple, different and open. It was already evolving through user behavior and through the addition of connecting services. It could be a kind of underlying protocol, the hub of an ecosystem, not a stand alone website.

Today, Tim O’Reilly added to that sense with a wonderful post explaining that Twitter does one small thing and does it well, has brilliant social architecture, cooperates well with others, creates ambient intimacy, and provides core services not bound to a particular interface.

Social networks like Facebook and Linkedin (and Friendster and Tribe.net before them) jealously guard their social graph, the connections between users. So I have to “friend” someone (offering and accepting) separately for each network I belong to, and I can’t take advantage of those connections except in software that run on a particular service. Twitter is different.

Twitter cooperates well with others. Rather than loading itself down with features, it lets others extend its reach. There are dozens of powerful third-party interface programs; there are hundreds of add-on sites and tools. Twitter even lets competitors (like FriendFeed or Facebook) slurp its content into their services. But instead of strengthening them, it seems to strengthen Twitter. It’s the new version of embrace and extend: inject and take over.

An example of that difference comes out in looking at how Facebook and Twitter share status updates.

Last month at CM Summit I asked Evan Williams, CEO of Twitter, about status updates going from Twitter to Facebook, but not the other way.

Today, John Battelle (who interviewed Williams on stage during CM Summit) pointed out a new problem I’d also been facing. It isn’t just that status updates only go one-way, there is also an issue about replies (thus conversation):

I noticed now that my FBook status is updated with Twitter, I get responses in Fbook, but would like to see them here. No way?

I admit that I’m still catching up on Facebook after having overdosed on Friendster and Tribe.net all those years ago. So please comment to suggest things I might be missing.

  • Despite having many more Twitter followers than Facebook friends, often my tweets get several more Facebook replies than Twitter @ replies. Why?
  • At least where the Facebook user also has a Twitter account, it would be nice to see their comment as an @reply on Twitter so that the conversation could continue there. And vice-versa, I’d love it if my @replies mapped to Facebook (perhaps as a post to that user’s wall?).
  • Since it doesn’t work like that, how can I best keep up with that second reply stream? Since I’m on Twitter more often than Facebook, that means I tend to miss them until later. Others may have the opposite problem.
  • Another service, FriendFeed, proposes a kind of solution, but in fact, makes the problem worse by providing one more island of comments.
  • When I want to continue the conversation, what’s the best way to do that? Respond with an Fbook comment to my own status update? @ reply them on Twitter if I know they have an account there? That seems impractical since I often can’t remember everyone’s Twitter handle.
  • Ping.fm, a front-end for posting status to many services, differentiates between updates to “micro-blogs” and “statuses”. Perhaps it will grow to include a category for “replies”? Still, that is only a solution for status going out, it doesn’t solve the problem for replies coming in.

Perhaps the real reason I use Twitter so much more than other social networks is exactly the reason that it is creating this kind of problem. Exactly the reason I felt OD’d on more traditional social networks. By being the most open broadly adapted social network, Twitter becomes the hub for every type of social networking.

Users won’t keep all their lives separated into artificial compartments by service for long. Nor will they keep using many different interfaces to lots of similar services. They have little patience for re-entering and re-confirming their friendships, but they will do it to move to a solution that works better for them. Just as they moved off closed email systems to open ones. Until Facebook develops the kind of clarity that Twitter has, it should fear the fate of Friendster and Tribe.net.

In the end, we’ll flock to the solutions that best increase our ability to be in touch with more people as well as to have deeper connections.Those won’t be the closed solutions.

(Incidentally, I started writing in response to the tweet from John Battelle. In the middle of it, another tweet alerted me to Tim O’Reilly’s post and sent me off in another direction. It’s on Twitter that I keep up with everyone.)

29 thoughts on “Could Twitter's transcendent clarity trump Facebook?

  1. I find social networking mostly annoying. I signed up for facebook and linked-in at the request of friends and acquaintances. Facebook is basically a hairball. There are too many different features, most of them requiring multiple steps to use. I’m not clear on what commercial uses are permitted, so facebook doesn’t offer me any profit-motive. I also signed up for twitter out of curiosity. I have yet to use it or even to fully understand what it’s for. I feel a little guilty about not being up to date on this stuff, but at the moment I have a very large list of email contacts, subscribe to a few journalism and special reference lists, and I get all the news and information that I need or can handle. I think the proliferation of social netwoorking sites with invite all your contact list features are a new kind of spam, friend-spam. I now just ignore all invitations. I occasionally respond to some Facebook or Linked-in notification, but mostly it’s all just more digital noise that I tend to tune out.

  2. I find social networking mostly annoying. I signed up for facebook and linked-in at the request of friends and acquaintances. Facebook is basically a hairball. There are too many different features, most of them requiring multiple steps to use. I’m not clear on what commercial uses are permitted, so facebook doesn’t offer me any profit-motive. I also signed up for twitter out of curiosity. I have yet to use it or even to fully understand what it’s for. I feel a little guilty about not being up to date on this stuff, but at the moment I have a very large list of email contacts, subscribe to a few journalism and special reference lists, and I get all the news and information that I need or can handle. I think the proliferation of social netwoorking sites with invite all your contact list features are a new kind of spam, friend-spam. I now just ignore all invitations. I occasionally respond to some Facebook or Linked-in notification, but mostly it’s all just more digital noise that I tend to tune out.

  3. Having adopted both Facebook and Twitter during the same week I have a list of preferences for Twitter.

    The short story is I learn from Twitter. I read tweets from smart folks, follow links (like how I arrived here) and I expand my brain. Everyday there is new learning or exchange worth tuning in for.

    Facebook for me, heretofore, is a social gathering. Yes, I enjoy connecting with family and friends – I have reestablished long forgotten connections – but I’m not a welcome receiver of ‘shots’, ‘flair’ etc.

    I find myself wishing that my friends on FB would update there status on Twitter instead.

  4. Having adopted both Facebook and Twitter during the same week I have a list of preferences for Twitter.

    The short story is I learn from Twitter. I read tweets from smart folks, follow links (like how I arrived here) and I expand my brain. Everyday there is new learning or exchange worth tuning in for.

    Facebook for me, heretofore, is a social gathering. Yes, I enjoy connecting with family and friends – I have reestablished long forgotten connections – but I’m not a welcome receiver of ‘shots’, ‘flair’ etc.

    I find myself wishing that my friends on FB would update there status on Twitter instead.

  5. There’s a strange intimacy to Twitter that you don’t get on Facebook. I feel like I know the people I follow — even the ones with whom I have no connection with outside of Twitter. That’s because I get little injections of their thoughts throughout the day. I “belong” to many social networks… many… many, many… but I use Twitter the most. It’s odd that in 140 characters you get a greater sense of people than you do when bombarded with their photos, videos and invitations to join their groups. On Twitter it’s like getting a little injection of their thoughts; there is less space for people to reshape who they are and therefore they seem somehow more real.
    Plus what a great time waster.
    Thanks for a really interesting piece.
    Btw, I’m following you now!

  6. There’s a strange intimacy to Twitter that you don’t get on Facebook. I feel like I know the people I follow — even the ones with whom I have no connection with outside of Twitter. That’s because I get little injections of their thoughts throughout the day. I “belong” to many social networks… many… many, many… but I use Twitter the most. It’s odd that in 140 characters you get a greater sense of people than you do when bombarded with their photos, videos and invitations to join their groups. On Twitter it’s like getting a little injection of their thoughts; there is less space for people to reshape who they are and therefore they seem somehow more real.
    Plus what a great time waster.
    Thanks for a really interesting piece.
    Btw, I’m following you now!

  7. Good insight Dale. I also see a separate and longer thread of conversation to my tweets on Facebook. My guess for this is that Facebook’s garden is where many of those users simply like to play. Or it could be that Fb status messages are more conducive to friendly replies since a whole conversation can be easily seen at a glance. Also, use cases between Fb and Twitter can be wildly different. Everyone I’ve confirmed a friendship with on Fb is someone whom I’ve met in person. With Twitter I’m more likely to add people I’ve never met, but also more likely to refine my list of people I follow to only those who tweets are interesting to me.

  8. Good insight Dale. I also see a separate and longer thread of conversation to my tweets on Facebook. My guess for this is that Facebook’s garden is where many of those users simply like to play. Or it could be that Fb status messages are more conducive to friendly replies since a whole conversation can be easily seen at a glance. Also, use cases between Fb and Twitter can be wildly different. Everyone I’ve confirmed a friendship with on Fb is someone whom I’ve met in person. With Twitter I’m more likely to add people I’ve never met, but also more likely to refine my list of people I follow to only those who tweets are interesting to me.

  9. Yes, I couldn’t agree more! Twitter works because it is the easiest and more valuable social media tool. I am traveling around the world on an open ended journey with my family and just don’t have time for more time consuming mediums.

    I belong to quite a few, but twitter makes it easiest for me, so that is the one I use most. I would like to put my blog into 140 characters! ;) Stumbleupon is my other favorite social media site, again because of its value for time put into it.

    I check twitter before email or anything else and find value & connection no matter what continent I am on or what time of day. I can stay connected even if I happen to only have a few moments of free wifi while roaming the world.

    Sadly, I would have missed it entirely had we not decided to take this world tour. It has amazed me that we have learned as much about the web2.0 world as we have the real world in the last 3 years of our unique family journey.

    It will be interesting to see how it unfolds as more people find it.

  10. Yes, I couldn’t agree more! Twitter works because it is the easiest and more valuable social media tool. I am traveling around the world on an open ended journey with my family and just don’t have time for more time consuming mediums.

    I belong to quite a few, but twitter makes it easiest for me, so that is the one I use most. I would like to put my blog into 140 characters! ;) Stumbleupon is my other favorite social media site, again because of its value for time put into it.

    I check twitter before email or anything else and find value & connection no matter what continent I am on or what time of day. I can stay connected even if I happen to only have a few moments of free wifi while roaming the world.

    Sadly, I would have missed it entirely had we not decided to take this world tour. It has amazed me that we have learned as much about the web2.0 world as we have the real world in the last 3 years of our unique family journey.

    It will be interesting to see how it unfolds as more people find it.

  11. I am curious to see how linkedIn’s application platform works out; facebook seems to be downplaying their own application platform, diluted by too many vampires and werewolves. But it’s important that these social networks have application platforms, because then, twitter doesn’t need to. Other social graphs allow twitter to remain simple. And hopefully it remains that way.

  12. I am curious to see how linkedIn’s application platform works out; facebook seems to be downplaying their own application platform, diluted by too many vampires and werewolves. But it’s important that these social networks have application platforms, because then, twitter doesn’t need to. Other social graphs allow twitter to remain simple. And hopefully it remains that way.

  13. Thanks for summing up twitter.

    Coincidentally (or not) a friend who recently moved to Asia from Europe asked me why I twitter. I responded with the following (via gmail)

    Twitter is an easy to use, short form way to update whatever, whomever whenever you have something to say. In addition, I like the graphics – I’m picky that way, it’s a lot prettier than FB and I haven’t delved deeply into friendfeed.

    I use it for news from follow new media people, journalists and newspapers I trust whose interests or focus is parrallel with mine. That said, I’ve yet to use anything I’ve learned from twitter as a source. I’d verify it if I did.

    Conversely, my tweets focus on a handful of categories with short links to stories that strike me. They include social networking, business, human rights, empowerment of girls and women, people who make a difference and sometimes parenting of teens and culture.

    The gist though is that I’m interested in what people “like me” are reading and I think my “followers” trust my judgment and share my interests. It’s “curated content.” http://twitter.com/susaw

    Very rarely will I share my “thoughts.” The links tell followers what I care about.

    I don’t follow people who tell me that they are at starbucks or wearing their pajamas for the day. There is one funny guy I follow who does share the mundane but he usually adds a tidbit about a book he’s reading or something else that’s a newsworthy bonus.

    I have a second Twitter account that I share with my writing partner. It’s for NYcentric things, http://twitter.com/uptowndowntown. Haven’t put this one to good use of late…

    I told my friend that , once/If she gets into it, I suspect she will see that not only is it fun, but one can garner a lot of information from other twitterers… I confess, it’s fun to take an occasional look at who’s begun to follow me. I look at people I follow to see who they follow and sometimes add to my list – just more to read online and yes, addictive but it’s not like playing solitaire.

    Interesting to read why people twitter. thanks for the op.

  14. Thanks for summing up twitter.

    Coincidentally (or not) a friend who recently moved to Asia from Europe asked me why I twitter. I responded with the following (via gmail)

    Twitter is an easy to use, short form way to update whatever, whomever whenever you have something to say. In addition, I like the graphics – I’m picky that way, it’s a lot prettier than FB and I haven’t delved deeply into friendfeed.

    I use it for news from follow new media people, journalists and newspapers I trust whose interests or focus is parrallel with mine. That said, I’ve yet to use anything I’ve learned from twitter as a source. I’d verify it if I did.

    Conversely, my tweets focus on a handful of categories with short links to stories that strike me. They include social networking, business, human rights, empowerment of girls and women, people who make a difference and sometimes parenting of teens and culture.

    The gist though is that I’m interested in what people “like me” are reading and I think my “followers” trust my judgment and share my interests. It’s “curated content.” http://twitter.com/susaw

    Very rarely will I share my “thoughts.” The links tell followers what I care about.

    I don’t follow people who tell me that they are at starbucks or wearing their pajamas for the day. There is one funny guy I follow who does share the mundane but he usually adds a tidbit about a book he’s reading or something else that’s a newsworthy bonus.

    I have a second Twitter account that I share with my writing partner. It’s for NYcentric things, http://twitter.com/uptowndowntown. Haven’t put this one to good use of late…

    I told my friend that , once/If she gets into it, I suspect she will see that not only is it fun, but one can garner a lot of information from other twitterers… I confess, it’s fun to take an occasional look at who’s begun to follow me. I look at people I follow to see who they follow and sometimes add to my list – just more to read online and yes, addictive but it’s not like playing solitaire.

    Interesting to read why people twitter. thanks for the op.

  15. Twitter is the best modern marketplace available on this planet right now. It’s like a river loaded with connection-packs, giving you the chance 2 dive deep into knowledge, knowhow, thoughts, ideas, insights, personal and or private universes, places, …, even machines.

    For me, the most important thing about twitter is its transparency. Which is the key to the next, better society anyway.

  16. Twitter is the best modern marketplace available on this planet right now. It’s like a river loaded with connection-packs, giving you the chance 2 dive deep into knowledge, knowhow, thoughts, ideas, insights, personal and or private universes, places, …, even machines.

    For me, the most important thing about twitter is its transparency. Which is the key to the next, better society anyway.

  17. I am trying a new social experiment for parents to use Twitter to keep up with their kids. Kids use technology like Facebook and texting to keep one step ahead of parents. What are parents doing to keep up? Not much. Most parents only use the phone, a one-to-one medium, so it takes a long time to get the word out. Twitter changes all that, and levels the playing field, so parents can all see what is happening as it is happening.
    I blogged about it here:

    http://thedaddynetwork.ning.com/profiles/blogs/lets-get-connected-via-twitter

    I think it could be a huge balancing of information availablity, which is strongly weighted in favor of our kids, even though as parents many of us use technology at work, but not so much at home.

  18. I am trying a new social experiment for parents to use Twitter to keep up with their kids. Kids use technology like Facebook and texting to keep one step ahead of parents. What are parents doing to keep up? Not much. Most parents only use the phone, a one-to-one medium, so it takes a long time to get the word out. Twitter changes all that, and levels the playing field, so parents can all see what is happening as it is happening.
    I blogged about it here:

    http://thedaddynetwork.ning.com/profiles/blogs/lets-get-connected-via-twitter

    I think it could be a huge balancing of information availablity, which is strongly weighted in favor of our kids, even though as parents many of us use technology at work, but not so much at home.

  19. Twitter allows a tremendous amount of specialized (personal, technical, market, etc.) information to flow quickly to a huge variety of people. It’s a tremendous marketing and research tool.

    There’s a lot more value to the info coming out of Twitter than many appreciate. As a simple example, some of my kids work for a certain fast-food restaurant. Yesterday I just did a quick Twitter search on their name, and found there’s roughly 2000 tweets per week.

    Even if half of these are just someone saying they’re eating there, the other 1000 unsolicited comments would cost quite a lot to collect, but they’re on Twitter just free for the asking, anytime someone wants to look.

    We’ve barely scratched the surface of Twitter’s potential, but it’s already the best way to get on the leading edge of most any field of activity. The main question I have now is how it will be integrated with other sites, particularly FriendFeed and Facebook?

  20. Twitter allows a tremendous amount of specialized (personal, technical, market, etc.) information to flow quickly to a huge variety of people. It’s a tremendous marketing and research tool.

    There’s a lot more value to the info coming out of Twitter than many appreciate. As a simple example, some of my kids work for a certain fast-food restaurant. Yesterday I just did a quick Twitter search on their name, and found there’s roughly 2000 tweets per week.

    Even if half of these are just someone saying they’re eating there, the other 1000 unsolicited comments would cost quite a lot to collect, but they’re on Twitter just free for the asking, anytime someone wants to look.

    We’ve barely scratched the surface of Twitter’s potential, but it’s already the best way to get on the leading edge of most any field of activity. The main question I have now is how it will be integrated with other sites, particularly FriendFeed and Facebook?

  21. I like it–very interesting perspective, and I think exactly on mark. The biggest issue today is finding a way to box in all of those social networks. As a consumer I have choices, as a content provider I want to be in the places–there should be a way to accomplish both.

  22. I like it–very interesting perspective, and I think exactly on mark. The biggest issue today is finding a way to box in all of those social networks. As a consumer I have choices, as a content provider I want to be in the places–there should be a way to accomplish both.

  23. I’ve been observing Twitter for about a year and only just recently took the plunge. And while I’m still finding my posing rhythm (as I am for my new blog, link below), it’s clear that microblogging is the wave of the future because it offers something that neither IM or Blogging does; open, group discussions and sharing.

    People need to understand how these tools differentiate themselves from one another:
    -IM = One-to-one immediate conversations
    -Twitter = Open group discussions and sharing.
    -Blogging = Presentation, followed by group commenting or discussion (depending if the commenting tools used)

    At the moment, it’s still way too early to say if Twitter can trump Facebook, but the potential is there in the form of the extensability of the platform itself.

    Herein is a lesson for Facebook. As mentioned above re moving “off closed email systems to open ones,” look what happened to AOL. If I remember the sequence of events correctly, while their platform was indeed exploding, their growth didn’t go Thermonuclear until after they open up to outside email.

    Other examples include Firefox’s add-on ecosystem and Google’s AdSense which put a little piece of Google almost everywhere across the entire web. Seems to me that Face needs to learn that lesson or it will suffer a similar fate as AOL.

    Shameless Plug: Read more at http://www.nealwiser.com

  24. I’ve been observing Twitter for about a year and only just recently took the plunge. And while I’m still finding my posing rhythm (as I am for my new blog, link below), it’s clear that microblogging is the wave of the future because it offers something that neither IM or Blogging does; open, group discussions and sharing.

    People need to understand how these tools differentiate themselves from one another:
    -IM = One-to-one immediate conversations
    -Twitter = Open group discussions and sharing.
    -Blogging = Presentation, followed by group commenting or discussion (depending if the commenting tools used)

    At the moment, it’s still way too early to say if Twitter can trump Facebook, but the potential is there in the form of the extensability of the platform itself.

    Herein is a lesson for Facebook. As mentioned above re moving “off closed email systems to open ones,” look what happened to AOL. If I remember the sequence of events correctly, while their platform was indeed exploding, their growth didn’t go Thermonuclear until after they open up to outside email.

    Other examples include Firefox’s add-on ecosystem and Google’s AdSense which put a little piece of Google almost everywhere across the entire web. Seems to me that Face needs to learn that lesson or it will suffer a similar fate as AOL.

    Shameless Plug: Read more at http://www.nealwiser.com

  25. Pingback: Hellonline (Eran’s blog) » Blog Archive » On News Feeds

  26. For a browser-based solution, your answer is in your own words:

    “In the end, we’ll flock to the solutions that best increase our ability to be in touch with more people … ”

    I’ve been using Flock as a separate browser to stream updates from friends on Facebook and Twitter. I follow their messages in the sidebar, and continue conversations as needed.

    This is not the most elegant solution, and I’ll be happy when I find a better way to continue the exchanges I’m interested in, whether on Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere.

  27. For a browser-based solution, your answer is in your own words:

    “In the end, we’ll flock to the solutions that best increase our ability to be in touch with more people … ”

    I’ve been using Flock as a separate browser to stream updates from friends on Facebook and Twitter. I follow their messages in the sidebar, and continue conversations as needed.

    This is not the most elegant solution, and I’ll be happy when I find a better way to continue the exchanges I’m interested in, whether on Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere.

  28. Thanks to all the commenters for sharing so many great thoughts, and my apologies for not continuing the conversation with replies as they came in… something I plan to improve in the future!

  29. Thanks to all the commenters for sharing so many great thoughts, and my apologies for not continuing the conversation with replies as they came in… something I plan to improve in the future!

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