Thursday, March 5, 2009

Twitter Versus Facebook

Everyone's abuzz about the new changes to Facebook profiles and pages. What does it mean? How will it change things? Can it stop Twitter?

The questions are everywhere, on every blog and in the media.

But why should Facebook want to stop Twitter? Why should Twitter want to kill Facebook? Why are the two even remotely considered similar?

Too often, social media platforms and services are looked upon as if they were engaged in a zero sum game in which there can only be one winner. What gets lost in this brouhaha is the basic notion that often these sites serve very different functions and attract a very different clientele. Or that users like and want both services to coexist. Often I find myself twittering about something on Facebook, and our company page (The David Group) includes an RSS feed of our twittering and this very blog.

In something like a tongue-in-cheek manner, I've suggested that the difference between Facebook and Twitter is that the former is the longest-running high school/college/coworker reunion and the latter is like the world's largest, most sprawling cocktail party (in fact I said so on Twitter). In that regard, they have their similarities, but that only extends as far as the conversation.

You and your twitter followers and those you follow are like one corner or one room of this party. Maybe you follow celebrities like Shaq or Rick Sanchez and they pass through your gathering with their comments, but as a whole your conversation remains dominated by you and your Twitter friends. Jokes are made, pictures are passed around, links are exchanged, and everyone gabs away to their heart's content.

Facebook shares much of these qualities only in so much as it is a social organization where people can make jokes and pass around pictures and links and so forth. But Facebook has had the capacity for blogging (Facebook Notes) for some time and no one has suggested that Facebook would kill Blogger or WordPress or Xanga or any of the other various blogging portals. Likewise, Facebook shares a lot in common with its unrulier older sibling MySpace, yet no one suggests that the two are locked in a dance of death. Facebook has places to upload and save your photos and your videos, while Twitter is the barest of apps.

Twitter is considerably more limited than Facebook, partly because of its 140 character max, partly because you can only change your home page so much, partly because there is as yet no advertising on Twitter, and partly because there are so many associated apps and ways you can Twitter when you're not on the computer. People happen to like those aspects of Twitter, even people who also happen to be on Facebook. I myself have three different Twitter accounts and they each serve their own specific function. I have my cellphone updated so I can post different things to different Twitter feeds. (Note to Twitter, by the way, it'd be great if there were any easy way to set up multiple accounts to one mobile number even if you didn't have a smart phone.)

But Twitter is limited and people like its simplicity. Yes, you can share photos on twitter, but what you're sharing is a link to a photo hosted somewhere else. Twitter, by its very nature, is about being linked to the web itself. Twitter is a way through the internet; Facebook is its own destination.

So whither all this noise about Facebook's new real-time updates being a Twitter killer? Wasn't Facebook's attempt to buy Twitter proof positive that they see the service as a long-term player? They do, and you should too. You can have both; there's room enough online for even more than two dominant social media, social networking platforms. If you've only got one, you're only seeing half of the picture.

So get on Facebook, get on Twitter, get on some kind of blog. There's no reason to only try one approach to engaging with people online. Plus, sometimes one service may be down and you may have a message you simply have to get out to the world. Multiple bullhorns give you the ultimate message flexibility.

Then, like me and others, you can blog about your Twittering, Twitter about your blogging, and have it all show up on Facebook too.

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