My Year of Living Socially
You would probably call me an “early adopter” of the Internet. I have had some kind of online presence for 15 years. The web immediately fascinated me when I first discovered it, and the fascination has not waned. I am grateful that my intuition led me early on to what would be the most revolutionary phenomenon of my adult life. One part of the online revolution for which I wasn’t an early adopter was “social networking.” I had blogs and web sites and felt that sites like Facebook and Myspace were for people who didn’t operate their own blogs. I just didn’t get Twitter at first. I checked it out early and it struck me as a pointless waste of time. Eventually a couple of friends convinced me to get on Twitter and Facebook, so in December of 2009, I opened accounts. After more than a year of doing both Facebook and Twitter, my ideas about these services have evolved significantly.
I think Mark Zuckerberg is a creep and I think his creation, Facebook, is creepy. There isn’t really a lot about Facebook that I like. There seems to be a basic dishonesty about Facebook in that it promises personal privacy, but actually works to “share” that personal information as widely as possible. Thousands of people have literally wrecked their lives with Facebook by posting things they thought were “private” only to find out that their postings were quite public. I learned a long time ago not to put anything on the Internet that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the newspaper, but most users don’t understand how public the Internet really is. Facebook has also been shown to share personal information with advertisers and I think that is at least sneaky, if not unethical. The format of Facebook is so limiting that it is unusable for anything beyond little “status updates” and sharing links. I don’t even like the way Facebook uses the word “Friend.” “Contact” would be better. Most of my “friends” on Facebook aren’t really friends; they’re acquaintances or friends of friends. You don’t become a friend by a mouse click on a little gray box. According to Facebook, I have 112 “friends.” I wish I had 112 friends. In the way I think about friends, I may have a dozen, but not 112.
I disapprove of the way Facebook handles photos. I don’t like the down-sampling that Facebook does on images, and I do not affirm the claim that Facebook makes to have rights to use and redistribute any image uploaded to Facebook. I think this claim in their terms of service is needlessly predatory on the part of Facebook. Most people who upload photos to Facebook do not realize that in the act of uploading a photo to Facebook, they are granting Facebook unlimited rights to use or redistribute their image.
As a “social network” Facebook has completely failed for me in one important way: none of my “friends” on Facebook came from Facebook as the original point of contact. All of my Facebook “friends” are the result of prior contacts and associations, or they are from new contacts I have made with Twitter.
I do find some value in Facebook. I have reconnected with a number of people with whom I had lost contact. I do enjoy seeing the notices from friends of the birth of babies, new accomplishments, notices of upcoming events, and the like. It is a convenient utility for sharing quick communications among those contacts who are active on Facebook. I will continue using Facebook because several of my real friends and relatives have taken to using Facebook instead of e-mail, but that is the only reason. Otherwise, I could live without it.
You will remember that Twitter is the social networking medium I viewed as pointless. Apparently, other people saw possibilities in Twitter that I didn’t see at the time. Twitter can still be the supreme time waster, but it can also be very interesting and useful, depending on how it is used. Twitter has become the social network I really enjoy and use. Unlike the social suffocation inflicted by Facebook, Twitter has gained for me quite a few new friends and contacts, people with whom I carry on lively discussions. I follow a number of news services and I find that I get breaking news quicker on Twitter than I do on the news web sites. I enjoy sending tweets about interesting photography, news, baseball games and other things that interest or outrage me.
Twitter does have its shortcomings. 140 characters isn’t a lot for someone who likes to write, so you can only do quick comments and send links to longer things. This can be a good discipline for writers who pack their copy with unnecessary words, but it does get tedious at times. Only those who follow you and those who happen to be tracking a search term that appears in one of your tweets will see your tweets. Due to the dynamic nature of Twitter, even those who follow you don’t always see your tweets unless they have you on a list, or are watching the time line when you tweet. The basic timeline goes by so fast that it is easy to miss things, especially when you are following a lot of feeds.
In the year of living socially, I have accumulated 112 Facebook “friends” and more than 1800 Twitter followers. I follow about 1400 Twitter feeds. Both accounts were started at the same time. There isn’t direct parity between friends and follows, since the Facebook friending often implies a more substantial relationship than a Twitter follow. Nevertheless, a nearly 20-fold discrepancy between the two services does get my attention.
The Hidden Agenda
I’m a blogger. I have been doing it for a significant period of time and it continues to be a source of great satisfaction to me. My photography and journal blog, Shutter Priority, was not getting the kind of traffic I wanted, and I decided to test the social networking services to see what kind of improvement they could give me on my blog traffic. The impact of Twitter on my blog traffic has been substantial. When I tweet a link to a new blog entry, I will often get hundreds or sometimes thousands of page views. If I only post a link on Facebook, I may get a couple dozen page views. Twitter wins the traffic test hands down.
Learnings and Observations
Obviously, Twitter and Facebook are vastly different types of services, and I suppose the individual’s preference for one or the other comes down to which environment one prefers. To me, Twitter is dynamic, free-wheeling and open, something like attending a big trade show with a bar. Facebook, in my opinion, seems far more restricted and clubby, akin to a high school reunion. For the most part, the people we talk with on Facebook are people we already know, whereas on Twitter we constantly meet new people.
I don’t buy the hype about Facebook that it’s going to put Google and blogs out of business and own the Internet in a few short years. The claustrophobic and highly restricted style of Facebook runs contrary to the basic openness that has made the Internet the success that it is. The potential of Twitter is probably still underestimated and unappreciated, but awareness seems to be growing.
From a utilitarian perspective, Twitter has gotten the job done for me. Facebook really hasn’t. For someone looking to get the word out about their blog or business, Twitter should be considered seriously. I won’t give up on Facebook for the reasons given above, but these days, posting a blog link or a new print for sale to Facebook is an afterthought, with little expectation for real results.
As always, these are just my opinions and impressions. Your mileage may vary (YMMV). I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the effectiveness of these two services. Feel free to use the comments below.