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:
- Why Twitter: Flight 1549 and viral news
- Why Twitter: Conference participation
- Twitter vs. Facebook
- Twitter is not Facebook Lite
More Twitter resources:
- Before You Sign Up for Twitter series, including How to Choose Good Twitter Names
- Twitter Practical How-to’s series