After hearing such a buzz about Twitter and Facebook at Web Visions 2007, I decided to give them both a try. Five months later, the results are completely unexpected to me: Twitter seems indispensable and Facebook completely ignorable.
My initial impressions were very different. Facebook had a clear purpose and reason. While I’ve never got much value out of MySpace or Friendster and minimal value out of LinkedIn, at least I understood why someone might find them useful. Facebook’s common features with these other social networking sites made it easy to see what Facebook was about.
Twitter on the other hand seem like a tremendous waste of time. I believe that the high interrupt nature of today’s workplace is already straining productivity. I’ve changed my email client to only check email every 30 minutes, stopped participating in IM and irc but irregularly, and generally sought ways to give myself more focus.
It was difficult to imagine that a system like Twitter with constant micro-updates would work for me.
Five months later and I’m contemplating turning off my Facebook account while I both enjoy and find utility in Twitter. How did this come to be?
Let’s start with the easy answer on why Facebook disappoints.
Dave Winer wrote recently about how Facebook sucks because it doesn’t allow users to control their data. This triggered a lot of back and forth about the value of Facebook. I’m not sure if it is control of the data or the walled garden or what, but the reality is that I never see what is going on in Facebook.
I think Facebook’s expectation is that I’m going to log into their system and refresh the news feed page. I’m not sure. I’ve tried turning on every type of notification and subscribing via RSS to no avail. I’m in several groups, but I never know that anything is happening in them.
Basically, the only time I think about Facebook is when someone writes an article about how great it is. Then I log in to look again and wonder what I’m missing.
Yes, Facebook has a wonderful development platform. I like the fact that I can syndicate my blog, twitter, delicious and flickr information to Facebook. It means I never have to log into Facebook to update anything. :-)
Maybe more of my friends need to use the platform. Maybe I need to “live” in the application to appreciate it. But for whatever reason, I’ve given Facebook five months to hook me, and I still could care less about it. And I’m actively trying to understand this system. I doubt others will take as much time.
Twitter’s purpose is much more difficult to explain. Adam C. Engst’s recent “Confessions of a Twitter Convert” mirrors my own experience. Twitter provides both a way to know what is going on in people’s lives, a conduit to breaking news, and a community that you don’t find elsewhere online.
It also provides you with a conduit to talking to people you otherwise have no connection to. My exchange with Guy Kawasaki allowed me to give something back to someone I admire. That connection would have never happened without Twitter. I don’t have Guy’s email address. He doesn’t know me at all.
Who knows? Perhaps in five months more of my friends will be on Facebook, and I’ll suddenly see why so many people swear by this service and think it can take on Google. And maybe Twitter will grow old or become crowded with spammers.
But for now, Twitter provides a difficult-to-describe joy and usefulness to my everyday. Facebook promises much more, but doesn’t deliver.
(You can follow me on Twitter here. My Facebook account is… well, I don’t think I can link to my Facebook profile. So I guess you have to search for me. How lame is that?)