Twitter vs. Facebook

February 10, 2009

Twitter vs. Facebook

So isn’t Twitter just Facebook status updates, without Facebook?

(And if you’re a Facebook-hater, that may be reason enough to give Twitter a try. “Facebook, without all those annoying requests? I’m in!”)

As a Facebook user (sounds like a drug), this question held me back from trying Twitter, because from the outside, they look quite similar. But once I tried Twitter, I found that the basic setup makes it quite different:

  • Facebook is reciprocal and private.
  • Twitter is asymmetrical and public.

Let me explain…

On Facebook, friendship is reciprocal

If I’m, your Facebook friend, then you’re my Facebook friend. In other words, it’s mutual. This provides a sense of privacy within your circle. Facebook provides various privacy settings, so you can determine which parts of your profile are visible to just your friends, to friends of friends, or to the broader network. But even if you make your status completely public, who will see it? Odds are, only your friends.

On Twitter, friendship is asymmetrical

I don’t have to be your Twitter friend to make you my Twitter friend. Twitter actually uses a more neutral and precise term — if I’m interested in regularly reading your status updates, I “follow” you, that is, I follow your updates. This places no obligation on you to follow my updates, and it is possible because updates are public.

Interacting with people you don’t know

When I first joined Twitter, I naturally made my first connections to my friends. But I quickly discovered that because of the asymmetry, I can follow the updates of prominent people and institutions. For example, I follow some Christian thought-leaders and some software engineering thought-leaders, without concerning myself over whether we are friends or have ever met. I also follow CNN Breaking News.

Much to my surprise, the first response was from a complete stranger!

My big ah-ha moment about how Twitter differs from Facebook status updates is when I posted a question about Twitter software for Macs. Coming from a Facebook orientation, I assumed I was asking my “followers.” Much to my surprise, the first response was from a complete stranger! How did someone who wasn’t following me see my question? He might have seen my question on the public timeline, or through a search — either is possible because of Twitter’s public nature. And how did I see his answer? The way Twitter works is I not only see the people I’m following, but I also see any updates containing an @ sign followed by my Twitter user name, like this: @jonmreid.

I continue to use Facebook because it’s good at what it was designed for: Bringing me back in touch with friends. Twitter is a different beast. If Facebook is like a reunion, then Twitter is like a cocktail party.

What about you: Do you use Twitter? Facebook? Both? Neither? Share your observations in the comments below. Other differences between Facebook and Twitter are explored on the TwiTip article, Twitter versus Facebook: Should you Choose One?

Further reading: Part 4 of this series, Twitter is not Facebook Lite, illustrates the differences between Twitter relationships and Facebook relationships.

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.

13 responses to Twitter vs. Facebook

  1. Twitter, more closely, matches the way we pay attention to people offline. We listen to people we are interested in, regardless if they are interested in us.
    I expect we will see some of the darker paradigms of society flowing into twitter connections. Unwanted followers, stalking. But for now, it is a young technology.

  2. Great summary.

  3. I totally agree with your opinion. I came to the same conclusion myself, especially after using the new TweetDeck .25b (support for facebook status)
    Facebook vs Twitter: Why facebook will never be twitter/

  4. This is crazy… lol.
    I am an avid Facebook user (yes, it is a form of drug, btw), and I always said I would never get a Twitter account. But, Here I am very much considering getting one. I love social media and connecting with friends and even strangers to a certain degree. I had my misconceptions about Twitter: not much more than a facebook wanna-be, just another way to find out everything a celebrity is doing, a stalker’s paradise, and a place I could give a play-by-play detail of my day.
    But, I’m realizing that it’s a lot more than that. I’m definitely on the outside looking in. Its possibilities are endless. I’ve contemplated the choice for the last few days—going back and forth quite often. This article is really pushing my decision, especially the quote: “Facebook is reciprocal and private. Twitter is asymmetrical and public.” This really describes the two in the simplest form.
    And, I love the analogy that “If Facebook is like a reunion, then Twitter is like a cocktail party.” I’m thinking it’s time to party!
    (Btw, I haven’t even read the Part 4 in this series yet! Lol.)

    • Seven months later, I’m curious… Did you give Twitter a try? What did you think?

      • Well, I did give it try (which you know by now since you found me on Twitter. Lol.)
        One of the main reasons I got it was to “reserve” my name as my Twitter-name. There’s probably not a huge demand for my name, but I wanted to get it before someone else does… you never know, right?
        I used Twitter quite extensively at first but now I’ve cut back to just posting blog posts and writing updates.
        I followed a few of my favorite celebrities for a while, but never checked on them recently. So now I just follow a few people I know (although I still don’t monitor their posts either).
        All in all, I’m glad I got Twitter. It is fun and entertaining and have my name so if I ever become famous (hey, you never know, right?), I’ll be set.
        Thanks for the insights, Jon. They do really help! Keep it up!