Thursday, May 7, 2009

Twitter vs Facebook

So I'm new to Twitter (as is, er, the world) but have been on Facebook since it reached its 'tipping point' (i.e. sometime in 2007). A few people who use Facebook (that is almost a tautology - 'people who use Facebook') have asked me what it is that Twitter offers that Facebook doesn't. Facebook, after all, has status updates, which only differ from 'tweets' insofar as you can follow the updates of someone you don't know - that is, following tweets is non-consensual, whereas FB is very much built around a (positively-reinforced) mutual control of friends.

Just tonight, however, I had a Twitter 'experience' while watching Q&A. The show spruiks its new media interactivity very heavily - not only can you text questions to the show or post them on the website, but you can also append a Twitter 'hashtag' (#qanda) to your comments. I decided to give this a go.

After the show, I did a search for 'qanda' and found - gasp! - a giant thread (maybe 70-80 pages long within a half an hour of the show finishing) of Q&A-related tweets, much like the ones I had sent into the ether. You can see some of it here (not sure how current this link will remain).

It was a bit like being put in touch with the fact that there are thousands of people shouting at the television, not just you. Some people were posting links to articles that some of the show's panelists had published (e.g. to Greg Sheridan's disavowed views).

It all combined to make you feel part of, well, a trend. A swarm of opinion. And this is, apparently, what this phenomenon is called: 'trending' (not 'swarming', alas).

The #QandA tag was the most popular in the Twitter(-sphere? -verse?) at the time I looked. This bodes well for the ABC I think - I think its new media push is working.

But what the experience made me realise is that this makes Twitter more than FB status updates abstracted from all the other rigmarole of Facebook.

Facebook is like a gated community. You only see your own friends, and everything that you do see (the feeds of what other people are doing) is modulated in such a way that Facebook comes to orbit around your own self-image. The focus of Facebook for each of its millions of users is themselves - other people mainly exist insofar as they have responded to you. Above all, apart from snooping through strangers' wedding photos (as a good 20% of Facebook trawling ultimately does lead to), on Facebook you cannot readily access the opinions of total strangers.

The functionality of Twitter, on the other hand, lends its focus to other peoples' opinions and comments. Twitter is a gadget for exposing you to a flood of other people's comments, wisecracks, links and snipes. It is harder to spend periods of time staring at your own visage, be it verbal or imagistic, on Twitter than it is on Facebook.

This is not to say that Twitter is without narcissistic possibility. It has plenty. It also abets one's proclivity to imagine that celebrities are your actual friends.

But Twitter's borders work in different ways.

If tonight's QandA trend hour is anything to go by, I like it. Time will tell, of course.

1 comment:

  1. and it gets even better when you use a twitter client on your laptop or phone while you watch... twitter is much better when you are NOT using the web interface.