Twitter is not Facebook Lite

March 10, 2009

Twitter vs. Facebook

It’s easy to dismiss Twitter as nothing but a tiny subset of Facebook functionality. After all, both feature a text input box where you type a little something for others to see, right? …But it turns out the difference isn’t so much in the text box (though there are differences there, too) as much as in the relationships.

As I wrote previously, relationships on Twitter are fundamentally different from relationships on Facebook. I said, “On Facebook, friendship is reciprocal. On Twitter, friendship is asymmetrical.” To many readers, that is probably equivalent to writing, “On Facebook, blah blah. On Twitter, babble garble.” A picture is worth a thousand words—especially if those words have four or five syllables! So here goes.

Facebook friends

Facebook connections are two-way: we are not connected unless we both agree to it. This puts some pressure on you when somebody you used to know wants to connect, and you think, “I do remember you, but we weren’t really that close.” If you ignore them, you risk offending them.

Twitter follows

Twitter connections are one-way, so they cannot be called friendship. It’s more like being a fan of somebody else, and is called “following” them. Just because I choose to follow you places no obligation on you to follow me.

Just glancing at the diagrams, you can see that many more types of connections are possible on Twitter. Specifically, it means we do not need a prior relationship for me to begin following you. My experience is that this encourages connections based on content—am I interested in what you say?—and from that, sometimes real relationship can develop. A quotation that has traveled across Twitter sums it up this way:

Facebook is about people you used to know; Twitter is about people you’d like to know better.Ivor Tossell

Why Twitter? series:

  1. Why Twitter: Flight 1549 and viral news
  2. Why Twitter: Conference participation
  3. Twitter vs. Facebook
  4. Twitter is not Facebook Lite

More Twitter resources:


Jon Reid

Posts Twitter Google+

As an American missionary kid who grew up in Japan, I'm a child of two cultures, while not fully belonging to either. This gives me a sightly different view of the world.

17 responses to Twitter is not Facebook Lite

  1. Jon,
    I think that the quotation at the end of your blog entry hits the nail on the head.
    And I am just glad that I made it into the category of “those you chose not to ignore.” Otherwise I would never have found your blog.
    I don’t spend enough time paying attention to “my followers” on Twitter, but lost a bit of interest back in the day when they were having technical issues…

  2. totally agree Jon! i was trying to explain the difference to someone the other day and i really couldn’t do it…now, i’ll just send them to you! 🙂

  3. Gray,
    Now I’m afraid that old ASIJers will have the wrong impression of me on Facebook! I am happy to reconnect even the more removed relationships, since we share a common bond. Part of this comes from the big ASIJ bash in San Francisco a few years back: Someone I hung around with in elementary school reintroduced himself, and looked sad when I couldn’t place him. (At least, not until we got home and I looked at the old yearbooks.) It’s me, I’m not too good with names—I even forgot my wife’s name once! …Have I backpedaled enough? 😛
    Whew. That said, I’m honored to have you here. I went looking for you on Twitter. And guess what? You don’t have to follow me back!

  4. Carrie,
    It takes a few tries to figure out how to describe it. Part of it is that my Twitter use seems to evolve as I figure out what it can do. But yeah, send them this way! 🙂

  5. Why have you become a twittevangelist? Twitter is still kinda like a facebook profile with everything set to public. Moreso its like a blog RSS feed aggregator centered around frequent short updates. Then again it took me years to be convinced to get a Facebook account.

  6. Jason,
    “Twitter is still kinda like a facebook profile with everything set to public.” Kind of, and not really. Thinking of it in terms of Facebook status updates limits our thinking about how to use it. Read on…
    “Moreso its like a blog RSS feed aggregator centered around frequent short updates.” Yes! And like an ordinary blog, a micro-blog doesn’t have to be about yourself. Much of the content I see is links to interesting stuff on the web, with a brief description or reaction.
    “Then again it took me years to be convinced to get a Facebook account.” It may not be for you, and that’s OK. On the other hand, some people use Twitter in a read-only way without posting a thing. There are many ways to use it, and just as I think I have it figured out, people come up with new ways.
    “Why have you become a twittevangelist?” Because this is the coolest thing I’ve experienced online in a long time! Let me give you a couple of examples:
    • Like the idea behind “blog one another”, I have found that Twitter has helped me grow spiritually.
    • This morning while it was still dark, Twitter alerted me to a National Weather Service freeze warning for our county. I took extra time to scrape my windshield and warm the engine, so I could get Trevor to school on time.
    • Inside the corporate firewall, I expect micro-blogging to overtake instant messaging, providing a kind of situational awareness within the company.

  7. Hi Jon! I love this blog. I am putting together a workshop at SJSU about blogging and we are going to talk about Twitter. Would you be willing to let me use this blog to explain Twitter for my workshop? I think you have explained it really well. Let me know.

  8. Go for it, Carol! And thanks for telling me — not because I would have minded, but because it encourages me to know that my blog is helpful to someone.

  9. ‘My experience is that this encourages connections based on content’
    It’s great how ‘again’ we come to the same exact conclusion. In my post I wrote:
    It [Twitter] (somewhat) dettaches the idea from the author.

  10. What would be interesting is to come up with a network graph for twitter and facebook. I’d imagine facebook will be more like circles of sets and subsets, while twitter will be much more chaotic.

  11. Ronald, it is interesting that we are making the same observations.
    OK, your homework is to come up with two graphs, and an analysis. 😉

  12. Reading your articles has just now resulted in my joining Twitter 🙂 so thanks for the info.
    I, too, always thought it was Facebook lite, LOL!

  13. Terri, I’m glad you made the leap! Now that you’ve jumped in, I’m sure you’ll have other questions. Please don’t hesitate to ask for help or clarification.

  14. I COMPLETELY disagree. I believe that while it is true that facebook requires some pressure on both parties to either initiate or accept a friendship, facebook gives a stronger sense of connection. While on twitter, one may be able to follow another’s profile, there is no connection. I feel that the person-to-person connections made on facebook are stronger, more meaningful, and allow for much more interaction. Also, the pressure is not that great, because a “friendship” on facebook is nothing more than allowing one to view your profile- which on twitter is already allowed. It just gives you more control/protection on who can view your posts and private information.

  15. Ben,
    Heh, I got quite a reaction from you! But I’m left wondering what you COMPLETELY disagree with. I agree that connections are stronger on Facebook, in large part because relationships must be reciprocated. And there is some pressure on Twitter: “Hey, I’m following you, so I expect you to follow me back.”
    But the neat thing about Twitter is, because the relationships are looser, you can encounter more people. Though there too, it’s all in the way you use it (or Facebook).

  16. Hi Jon. Good read. I’m wondering how you would compare the two now.
    I’ve been on Twitter for a few months now, and even since then both seem to have more similarities than differences.

    • Joe, I made a note to myself to write about it. Because on the surface, you’re right, the two have moved closer. But their differences are still very real to me. (They may not be that different for you, depending on how you use them and who you connect with.)