Twitter vs. Facebook

I’ve been thinking some of late about my relationships with Twitter & Facebook, and why, more or less as soon as Twitter came around, I stopped hanging out on Facebook (so, more or less the same post as about 10,000 others, but this one from my point of view).

I’ve been a joiner of all the social network upstarts. I had a MySpace account (I suppose I probably still do, although it is long unvisited), I had a friendster account, and, as soon I was able to, I had a facebook account. When I first joined facebook, I immediately “friended” all my real friends, which was great, and we had a new method, beyond IM of rapid communication. When apps were added, I got sucked into those and played games and whatnot. But the novelty wore off. And once I added everyone I knew, I stopped going as often. Sure, I could see what my friends were up to, but for the most part, their statuses didn’t change that often. And I wasn’t meeting anyone new or interesting on Facebook.

When I dove into politicking last summer, Facebook became indispensible. Every politician, aspiring politician, and most importantly, potential supporter and volunteer was on facebook. And here, facebook showed it’s true power: It is a closed feedback loop, which is exactly what is required for grassroots organizing. Once we’ve made a connection to each other, we can easily send information to and from each other. The information doesn’t really escape that loop, which is fine. On the downside, as all organizers know, no one considers anything on Facebook binding. Just because someone has said they’ll attend an event on Facebook does NOT mean they’ll show up. Just because they’ve joined your group does NOT mean they’ll participate.

Twitter, by contrast, is open-ended. When I tweet, the potential audience is not just my circle of 200 friends, the potential audience is anyone with an internet connection. Additionally, because I can read the conversation threads of the people whom I follow (caveat: with the recent changes to @replies, this is less possible now), I can quickly find new and interesting people. My list of people whom I follow on Twitter very quickly grew beyond my circle of friends and family – first to aquaintances, then to people whom I wished I knew, then people who inspired me, then, often, simply to people who seeming interesting, whether I knew them or not. And reading my language, you’ll note what I consider to be the key difference between Facebook and Twitter: on Facebook, you “friend” someone – it has to be reciprocal for it to be allowed. On Twitter, you follow someone, and there’s no need for them to follow you back. They can, but they don’t have to. And even if they don’t follow you, you can still read what they’re up to.

Interestingly, when I visit facebook now, the people who use it the most appear to be those who have connected their Twitter accounts to Facebook, so that their tweets update their facebook status. I suspect that the proliferation of non-web-based interfaces for Twitter have only helped to accelerate this – certainly, I almost never go to the Twitter site itself, just like I almost never go to the Facebook site. Websites, for all their goodness, are somewhat inconvenient compared to an app on my desktop because they’re not always on, like a desktop app can be.

I can be found at http://twitter.com/stv