Clive Thompson on Facebook and Twitter

Clive Thompson has written a great article for the New York Times about what makes Facebook and Twitter special. I’ve tried explaining both to people, and it’s very hard to convey what makes Facebook different from earlier social networks, or what makes Twitter different from having a blog. This article explains it quite well.

I’ve worked on two virtual worlds in the last year, and in both I added features similar to Facebook’s News Feed. It’s just such a great idea, especially when tied in to buddy lists and easy invite systems. But I think you need to have experienced how it changes how you relate to people to appreciate it.

Even if you keep up to date on this stuff, I recommend reading the article. It goes further than just saying that Facebook has a news feed or that Twitter is cool.

Comments 4

  1. Mark wrote:

    Serious question….

    Having read the article, and your own testimony in your blog post, I’m still left with a very uneasy feeling about all this. The idea that “you have to do it to understand it” strikes me as problematic in the least, and perhaps a bit scary. Like joining a cult, I wonder if people are adopting a potentially problematic but reassuring point of view rather than expanding their consciousness.

    My question: how much visibility do you actually get to anyone’s life when you have no real metric by which to measure their editorial tendencies in posting? Having blogged a bit, and written an extensive journal over eight months, and read many of the same kinds of things written by others, I can attest that genuine honesty is often a scare commodity in such communications.

    I have no doubt that you get a sense of…something…but I can’t help think that it’s a sense of what this kind of communication/networking medium is like, rather than any direct embrace of or access to humanity.

    Posted 16 Sep 2008 at 12:56
  2. Jurie wrote:

    >>The idea that “you have to do it to understand it” strikes me as problematic in the least, and perhaps a bit scary.<< I don't think I quite expressed that clearly. *I* have so far not been very successful in explaining what makes Twitter different from, say, a blog, or what makes Facebook different from Orkut. Clive Thompson did a better job, in my opinion. Put simply, both Twitter and Facebook are more informal and less attention-demanding than other forms of communication, such as email or phone calls. This makes both (to different degrees - Twitter has a wider range of uses than Facebook imo) ways of keeping up with what friends are doing, and creates a lot of potential for small, casual interactions. I wouldn't send you an email telling you what I just cooked (Thomas Keller's cauliflower gratin), I wouldn't blog about it, but I did just twitter it and someone unexpectedly commented on it. Of course there are risks and downsides - the article mentions some of them, and in fact goes beyond the rah-rah articles I usually see.

    Posted 16 Sep 2008 at 15:59
  3. Mark wrote:

    So in a way there’s a general decrease of intimacy, but a broadening of contacts. Like walking down the street in your neighborhood and saying hello to people you’ve seen for months (or years), but don’t know anything about, including their names….

    I guess I can see the appeal. More of a casual social interaction than a dedicated or communal response to some cause or interest. The broadening of virtuality into commonality, rather than advocacy.

    In a way that also seems more calm, and I think I detected that tone in Thompson’s article. You can watch things drift by, rather than racing to comment or join or oppose, etc.

    Posted 16 Sep 2008 at 20:55
  4. Jurie wrote:

    Yes. Neighborhood is a good metaphor – also a bit like living in a small town of your own making.

    Really the nicest thing about Facebook is that you find people you haven’t spoken to in years, and generally can keep up a low-grade contact with people you otherwise might see once a year or less often, because there’s never quite a reason to sit down and compose a formal, ah, email.

    Posted 17 Sep 2008 at 0:07