July 29th, 2007

Web Communication Experiment: First Round Goes To Twitter

by

After one day of experimenting, I’m already addicted to Twitter. I get it now. It’s really an elegantly designed application:

  • See everyone who is following you
  • Follow them with one click
  • Address message to specific people with @

I also get the 140 character limit now — it keeps you in the right mode of communication, so that you don’t do go deep or meander (as I often do) but get right to the point. (Twitter requires character economy, not just word economy.) The character limit makes it possible to follow many people without it feeling burdensome.

Above of all, Twitter significantly lowers the threshold to communicating publicly on the web. I’m posting thoughts there that would normally have had to wait for a longer blog post (like this), or might never have gotten voiced at all, and I’m getting an instant response. Sure, there’s a higher noise to signal ratio, but the noise is so brief that it’s easy to filter.

Twitter is in many ways like Google — just type into a box, hit enter, and get results. Simple, elegant, highly usable. It’s self-evident how to use Twitter, also just like Google.

There are still many people I’m following who haven’t tweeted, but it’s a summer weekend with (one would hope) better things to do, so I’ll see what happens during the week.

I also found it interesting that far more people connected with me on Twitter than on Facebook. It could be because more people have Twitter accounts, or because I set a bar for friending me on Facebook — but I suspect it’s because more people are ACTIVELY using Twitter.

I’m using a neat app called Twitterrific, which shows Twitter posts in real time — makes it feel like public IM, or group SMS, as Kevin Gamble called it.

Twitter is high on instant gratification. Facebook it seems is less so — I’m still getting a fairly high noise to signal ration from my News Feed, with endless notifications of new friendings, new application addings, and new group joinings.

It’s much less obvious to me how to communicate on Facebook. Maybe because I’m so used to one-to-many publishing from blogging, and Twitter fits so easily into that mode. I tried posting a note on Facebook, and got some great responses, but I haven’t yet found the need to communicate with JUST my Facebook friends, such that I wouldn’t rather post something here on the blog.

Om Malik writes about getting the right group of friends on Facebook, and I think that’s key — Facebook is all about privacy and limitations, being able to communicate with a defined group of people, so that no one else can hear or listen in.

I think I need to spend more time with Facebook groups, because communicating with people who have common interests seems like it should be a useful application.

I think my problem is that I’m such a hardcore blogger, i.e. so used to sharing thoughts with anyone and everyone who wants to listen, that I find Twitter much more instinctively appealing than Facebook. But then I’m an edge case relative to the general population, so I’m not a good reflection of Facebook’s actual utility in that regard.

So far I’ve gotten more out of Facebook in terms of reference than communication — seeing who knows whom, who went to school where, who works where, who is interested in what. It’s like LinkedIn, but with more information. I still think Facebook is not at all optimized for business use, although everyone is making a good show of it.

One thing I have decided is that I’m definitely going to posting thoughts and ideas to Twitter that wouldn’t necessarily yield a blog post. I’m already finding the feedback loop on Twitter rivals that of blog comments.

But by doing that I’ll be reaching far fewer people than on this blog. I’m not sure what I think about that yet — I’ll have to see how many more of you decide to connect with me on Twitter. I did add Twitter to the sidebar of the blog, but that doesn’t help everyone who reads this blog in RSS or email.

The other thing I love about Twitter (and Facebook, too) is the end of anonymity. Titter works best if the people who follow you and the people who you follow overlap as much as possible. This way you can see what your followers are saying with their own tweeting, and they can easily communicate with you. It really is an elegant system that solves a big problem with blogging — when someone subscribes to this blog by RSS, I have no idea about it. And so I can’t reciprocate by checking out their blog and choosing to subscribe to it.

Troy Schneider tweeted an interesting observation just before I was about to publish this:

one may have to choose between using these tools as a publisher vs. using them for actual personal communication

I think there’s definitely something to this — need to meditate on it some one.

I can’t resist snarking a little bit by observing that the word “tweet” rivals the word “blog” for onamatapaeic misfortune. I’m using it against all my better judgment, but I’ll probably get used to it after a while.

More observations to come — but you’ll probably hear it first on Twitter.

Comments (4 Responses so far)

  1. rivals the word “blog” for onamatapaeic misfortune. I’m using it against all my better judgment, but I’ll probably get used to it after a while. More observations to come — but you’ll probably hear it first on Twitter. [IMG ] [IMG] (via tmonkey’s starred items in Google Reader)

  2. Web Communication Experiment: First Round Goes To Twitter, and he has declared an early winner: Twitter is in many ways like Google — just type into a box, hit enter, and get results. Simple, elegant, highly usable. It’s self-evident how to use Twitter, also just like Google.

  3. Hi Scott – a few random responses to this post.

    1) I think one main difference between Twitter and Facebook is that Twitter is an explicit form of communication, while Facebook is more an implicit method of self-expression. Both are, in my mind, broadcasting tools of sorts. I think you’re right to characterize Twitter as falling into more of a traditional publishing model where anyone can, in theory, see what you blast. Facebook is less about announcing a specific message to the world — as far as it’s a broadcasting tool, Facebook aggregates and exposes a user’s actions, which serves as it’s own, unique form of communication. This collection of actions (summed up in a user’s mini-feed on his/her profile) allows people to express themselves, their interests, their relationships, etc. by implicit actions (writing on each other’s walls, adding new friends, changing which bands you list on your profile, posting an interesting article, adding a new photo album of a recent road trip, etc.) In other words, on Twitter you TELL people what you are doing – it’s proactive and immediate. On Facebook, you SHOW people what you are doing and oftentimes, they must discover it. (At least, this is my take on it…)

    2) Facebook is all about your friend network (as Om pointed out) — and so it’s really not useful or relevant unless you care about the people you are friends with on Facebook. however, I find that the same is true for Twitter. It’s really not that interesting unless you care what the people are doing that you choose to follow.

    3) You mentioned high noise to signal ratio on your Facebook newsfeed. Check out this link to set preferences for the type of information you want to be notified about — it’s quite sophisticated in this way. http://www.facebook.com/feed_prefs.php

    I’m starting to think that who becomes a Twitter fan and who becomes a Facebook fan may have something to do with personality type more than anything else. Which one you gravitate towards may be a product of what type of information you’re comfortable sharing about yourself and with whom.

  4. Might want to fix that typo in the 4th to last paragraph… Don’t forget the “w” in Twitter.

  5. Grant McCracken has some of the smartest commentary I’ve read on Twitter: http://www.cultureby.com/trilogy/2007/07/how-social-netw.html

  6. “Titter!” now that’s journalism!

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