Twitter versus Facebook

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 what  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:  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 of  an entertainment place in which you are invited to play. Games, interactions or causes, all are sharing a subtle entertaining vibe on Facebook.

API Usage

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.

General Context

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.

For me, Twitter is Auckland, Facebook is Las Vegas. 🙂

20 thoughts on “Twitter versus Facebook”

  1. I like the way you’ve laid out several differences that I hadn’t thought of. Facebook is so much harder to use for business, IMO. Twitter is the clear winner.
    .-= Monica O’Brien´s last blog ..Free content sells. We get it. What’s next? =-.

  2. I agree with you, I love Twitter because of its simplicity. Facebook is too complicated. I started using FB because I read that it was a good tool to create online awareness, but I’m not using it that much, simply because its too much hassle. I’ll probably end stop using FB. I see it more as a personal (not corporate) “heej look how nice I look in the camera” kind of site. Same as that I dislike console games where you can have 25 possible key combo’s, I prefer the games where you only have to use 5 max (the less the better).

  3. Facebook is defiantly Vegas. I haven’t seen any reason to be on there. It is the same as MySpace .
    You get more then what you are looking for on the net. This is how I feel about the site.
    I on Twitter to promote my blog and others in my community.
    Very good article !!!
    .-= Bunnygotblog´s last blog ..12 On Blogging: Katie Clemons, “Making This Home” =-.

  4. He dear Dragos, I do both Facebook and Twitter because I meet different people on both. And I find each has it’s advantages and disadvantages. Overall I am not someone addicted to either, nor am I to internet, so I just do a little on each when I can. At first I didn’t have a feel for either one, didn’t really know what do on them, now I just do what I WANT. LOL!! And…it seems to work the best. I just have fun.
    .-= Robin Easton´s last blog ..When I Die I Want… =-.

  5. I agree with everything Dragos.
    Twitter confused me a little bit in the beginning, I had no idea what to write there (writer’s block:), but now I definitely choose it over Facebook.
    .-= Lana-DreamFollowers Blog´s last blog ..Relationships Advice – Other People Are Just Mirror Images Of You =-.

  6. Great article Dragos. I have tried facebook but being honest haven’t invested the time in getting to know it’s true potential and I don’t really want to due to the time involved in really learning about it.

    Twitter is much easier to interact with, it’s like a soap opera; you can stop watching for a few weeks but still get the gist of story when you come back to it.
    .-= Steven Aitchison´s last blog ..Best of Change Your Thoughts 2009 =-.

    • Totally agree with you: thin, italic font is so difficult to read. I wonder too who is using this, being totally out of mainstream web usability rules. Because, you know, I’m pretty sure I’m using a sans serif regular font on this blog 😉

  7. Hi Dragos! I don’t do much facebook anymore. It just got too complicated to keep up with. I’m old and I need SIMPLE! Nice article 🙂
    .-= Stephen – Rat Race Trap´s last blog ..Some Books You Might Enjoy =-.

    • It’s not the “complicated” part in itself, at least for me. It’s “what you get for doing this complicated thing”. I would do it more often if the payback would be significant.

  8. Hey Dragos.

    This is a cool comparison. These tools, which we have to remember that they are, are really useful for the few of us that see them as big opportunities. The amount of connection they provide is unmatched elsewhere, and that is the important point.

    Simplicity sure is something that I also agree with you as the reason why Twitter seems a bit more enjoyable than Facebook at first though, because it is straightforward, and there are no extra apps or side features built into it.

    Glad to get some insight into both. I will set up a Facebook fan page for my site soon enough.
    .-= Armen Shirvanian´s last blog ..Timeless Information Video #2 =-.

    • Good luck with the fan page, I also got a group there and had a little bit of momentum in the beginning, but after that it seems the attention span is too limited to get on with it.

  9. Dragos, my personal idea about them is simply the complexity of the human nature and how we choose to communitcae with people in real society. I think you’ve elaborated very well about this if we look from this perspective, of course beside other perspective(s) that you presented in the post.
    .-= Hicham Maged´s last blog ..Common Grounds =-.

    • Yes, you’re right, there are simply too many ways to skin a cat, and both Twitter and Facebook are part of how we decided to skin the information out of the bones of this society 🙂

  10. Indeed, Facebook used to be kind of an advanced address book, which was alright. Now not only it became too complex overall, but the basic functions are harder to use as well. I log in every now and then and just can’t believe how useless it became.

    Please, don’t compare Twitter to Auckland! There’s MUCH more happening on Twitter than will ever happen in whole NZ. Facebook and Las Vegas is a good one though! A lot of useless stuff happening in both. 🙂

    • I’m not comparing volumes here, but merely attitudes: there’s a decent and useful interaction in Auckland (at least from my experience) as well as in Twitter. I like hanging out on Twitter because its authenticity and I do the same in Auckland (among other cities, I admit, Auckland was just the first to pop up in my head).


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