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Social Networks

Why Do You Think People Like Twitter?

Prior to an interview on Friday about Twitter’s “staying power,” Caitlin Murphy (KIRO intern, UW grad) asked me that question. In preparation for our meeting, I tweeted: “Why do you like Twitter? Which is your favorite, Twitter or Facebook?” I also looked at some of the answers to the question “What would you say to a friend who asked you about Twitter?” from our spring survey.

Your Take-Aways

Here’s what some of y’all said on Twitter:

From Paolo Mottola (@paolojr):
Twitter is my social RSS feed, but Facebook is where I socialize. Facebook>Twitter IMO

From Tarja Kallinen (@tkallinen):
I like twitter because it’s easy (with iPhone), instant, brief, just main points. I like Facebook too but it’s more labor-intensive
and
One more thing about FB vs Twitter: on FB you’re communicating w/ friends-feels inappropriate to be too opinionated or political.

From James Roberts (@jrnoded):
twitter by a long [shot] – no hidden agendas (well maybe) but just conversation no fluff.

From Shannon Huggins (@shuggins_6):
Depends on what I want to do.

From Walt Boyes (@waltboyes)
twitter for fast breaking stuff, facebook for most everything else.

From Elaine Nelson (@epersonae)
re twitter vs facebook: twitter, definitely. it doesn’t try to absorb my whole online life.

And some of our anonymous survey participants (data to be released in 2010 with the Twitter book):

  • [Twitter] connects you to your choice of social nervous system.
  • Ultimately the value in Twitter is specifically due to the length restriction of messages.
  • [Twitter is] the main way I keep in touch with friends, meet new people, get my news, follow what’s going on in Seattle…
  • Twitter, from the view point of a television news person, offers a chance to communicate with the community and put a human face onto an industry often maligned as a “faceless corporate monster.”

My Take-Aways

Those comments mirror my biases:

  • Brevity is good. (Count the number of characters in each of the 10 Commandments in the Old Testament – only two are more than 140 and I can easily edit those two to fewer than 140 characters without affecting meaning.)
  • Simple is good. (I’m now using NutshellMail so that I don’t have to deal with the Facebook interface.)
  • Openness is good. (I used to think of tweets as being ephemeral, but now that I’m getting Facebook updates via NutshellMail, I realize that it is the Facebook status that is truly ephemeral, if you have friended more than a few people).
  • Single-purpose is good. (Generally speaking, I prefer tools designed for a job than a Swiss-army knife.)

When Caitlin asked “how do people use Twitter?” I laughed and replied, “how do people use the phone?”

I was being slightly facetious, but only slightly. For example, it wasn’t that long ago that one of my best friends from college kept a cellphone for “emergencies only” (think flat tire). At the same point in time, my mother was using a cellphone for its “weekends free” long distance plan: it was how she kept in touch with her sisters.

Twitter is a communications tool, a tool that can be used in a myriad of ways, just like the phone. Just like “the mail.” Just like faxes. Just like email. Just like “blogs.” Just like printing presses!

We talked about the differences between Twitter and Facebook (openness, reciprocity) and the current tension arising from Mark Zuckerman’s efforts to strong-arm members into being more “public” with their information (“user-generated content”).

On the “where do you think Twitter will be in five years” question (“staying power”) … I reminded her that five years ago we didn’t have YouTube (founded in February 2005) and yet by May 2006 its viewership has passed CNN. Instead, I told her that what we are calling “the real time” (public) web is what is here to stay.

How we are going to be accessing the real-time web in five years? That’s where my crystal ball gets cloudy. How clear is yours?

Related: Tim O’Reilly, Why I Love Twitter

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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