In the last 5 years, the most important digital places I spend time in are Twitter and Facebook. Surprisingly enough, they seem to be the most popular social networking sites too. Recently, I had a short morning conversation on Twitter with one of my followers about whatÂ question these sites are answering. What is the reason Twitter and Facebook exists, after all? The following post was born out of this interaction.
Twitter and Facebook Question
The Twitter question is undoubtly: “What are you doing?”. As simple and dumb as it seems it responds to a fundamental need of human beings:Â curiosity. It may have killed the cat, but made the humans happy too in the process, that’s for sure. A part for answering this question, Twitter is not doing more. I’m reading this, I’m cooking dinner, I’m hanging out with friends, these are typical Twitter actions. Sometimes, a conversation can last for hours, sometimes it ends in a tweet.
The Facebook question poses a little bit of difficulty, but in the end I think this is: “What are you up to?”. In the beginning, Facebook was just a place to keep in touch with friends, sort of a digital address book. In the last 2-3 years, the increased interactivity, fueled by a wave of new apps built on top of their API made Facebook more ofÂ an entertainment place in which you are invited to play. Games, interactions or causes, all are sharing a subtle entertaining vibe on Facebook.
Twitter is giving an API for creating different clients for the same environment. You can access the same rules, via a different skin or device.
Facebook is giving an API for creating different meta-environments. You can create your own rules, and engage users in a different, sometimes totally unexpected type of interaction.
Twitter keeps the context fixed, while Facebook changes the context frequently. That means, Twitter has a limited set of features, which remained fixed for a long time. The learning curve is faster than on Facebook, because of this simplicity. On Twitter you can focus only on interaction, on Facebook you keep focusing on adapting to the environment.
On Twitter you reach out to people, on Facebook you reach out to challenges, apps and complex interactions. Reaching out to people is spontaneous, unexpected and builds up social skills. Reaching out to challenges and complex logical interactions builds up intellectual skills. While they are surely more engaged than usual Twitter users, typical Facebook users are not as social as you would think they are. The abundance of social tools (poking, commenting on walls, liking, etc) masks the genuine message.
Adapting to a difficult environment is clearly one the most important evolution processes. While Twitter maintains a rather loose environment with fewer rules, Facebook is constantly loading it with new restrictions. Coping with every new change and improvement in FaceBook frustrates users but at the same time is making them stronger. On Twitter, the only challenge must come from within, there is only the internal motivation: to manage an increasing number of connections in small, standardized chunks of actions. Facebook users may become stronger but their social motivation needs constant challenge. Twitter users are building up social skills in a more natural way.
A typical Facebook user is a little more stressed than a typical Twitter user. He knows he have to cope with a new challenge at any given moment: being it a new environment rule (like tagging users or changing the look of the feeds or of the site) or being it a new gift or other request he receives from a new app. It’s like being prepared to face a new threat every second. It surely makes them more powerful but I don’t know if it’s making them enjoy their presence more.
A typical Twitter user is most of the time concerned only with his incoming or outgoing interactions. He can chose the level of those interactions by limiting or expanding the number of users he follows. He has a greater control of the game than a Facebook user, who, regardless of the number of friends, is exposed to an increasing number of stimuli. A Twitter user usually enjoy his presence or at least is constantly refining his game in order to enjoy his presence more.
Social Media Vocabulary
By “vocabulary” in social media I understand the interaction units. In a language you have words as interaction units, in a social media site you have a set of actions by which you can play that specific role.
On Twitter you have a limited and pretty much standardized vocabulary: tweets, replies and direct messages. You can post links and that’s that.
On Facebook, you have a virtually unlimited vocabulary. You can express with hundreds (if not thousands) of apps, you can play Farmville or Mafia Wars, you can write on walls, poke, or become a fan.
Usually, languages with a simpler vocabulary tends to become more popular. English surpassed French during the 20th century as an international language, partly because it has a simpler vocabulary.
Twitter or Facebook?
I favor simplicity in face of complexity. In my opinion, if it keeps the actual strategy, Twitter has a bigger evolution potential because it has fewer rules to be followed. It’s a simpler, much robust digital organism. Facebook is like a wrestler on steroids: impressive, hugely complex but ready to crush at any given moment. Its complexity is becoming its heavier burden.
I think in the long term the stake will move from adapting to a complex environment (Facebook) to adapting to a complex stream of interactions (Twitter). We, humans, are already incredibly complicated machines, we don’t need to create another hugely complicated environment to adapt more. What we need is to interact more, to create around us a new social model. In this regard, Twitter allows a bigger freedom and the human interaction throughput is higher in Twitter.
FaceBook keeps the game closed. The rules are changing and they are seldom changing by popular request, on the contrary. Facebook may succeed in creating a challenging environment, like a huge amusement park, where you want to go every once in a while for some thrills, but you can’t live your real life in an amusement park. Real life is outside an amusement park, real life is made of simple human interaction, of spontaneity and unexpected. I like a roller-coaster every now and then, but I can’t work and become useful in a roller-coaster.