Twitter suffers from two key misperceptions that need to be resolved before the business can reach its true potential. The first misperception is that Twitter is simply another social network, like Facebook. People commonly think of Twitter as a variant of Facebook. The press frequently positions the two together as “leaders in social networking.” This pairing erroneously implies that the two services are used for the exact same thing, even though the two platforms are very different. Facebook is a few-to-few communication network designed for sharing information and life events with friends. Twitter, on the other hand, is a one-to-many information broadcast network. The only way magic happens on Facebook is through reciprocity: I friend you and you friend me back – then information flows. But on Twitter, I can get something out of following Shaquile O’Neil who has no social obligation to follow me back.
…In many ways, Twitter is much more of a competitor to other “discovery tools” and “information sources” than it is to Facebook. Facebook is unquestionably the number one resource for “sharing with the people in your life.” From this perspective, Facebook competes (extremely well) with email, instant messengers, and certainly other symmetric social networks like MySpace. Twitter, on the other hand, competes most directly with other tools that help you find important links, news, and information. It is in this broad, non-friend based crowd-sourcing and speed of discovery where Twitter truly shines.
Some who understand this point have suggested that Twitter is merely a “Better RSS reader.” While this analogy is directionally more accurate than the Facebook comparison, it greatly underestimates the power and value of Twitter. RSS feeds are simply computerized information “routers” that require complex setup, initialization, and maintenance. Twitter has three breakthroughs that make it dramatically more powerful than simple RSS. First and foremost, your personalized Twitter feed is human-curated by a potential universe of millions of curators. When you “check Twitter” you are looking at the specific articles and links purposefully chosen by people you have chosen to follow. That is powerful leverage. Second, it is easily extensible. Due primarily to the concept of “retweeting,” the simple act of using Twitter exposes you to new and interesting sources to follow. It evolves into a richer and more customized offering over time. You discover new people as well as new information.
Okay, I can get that. Three things, though. One, it greatly amuses me that anyone would choose Shaquile O’Neal as the prime example of someone from whom you can “get something” by following his random fun-sized thoughts. Two, I’m no Luddite, but all this jabbering about information, irrespective of quality and content as long as it’s fasterfasterfaster, makes me want to go re-read Theodore Roszak’s The Cult of Information. And three, I’m so old, I remember when people used to have these things called “blogs” or even “websites” where they could post news and essays of their own as well as link to other people’s. If most tweets of value are just links back to more substantial fare, why not eliminate the middleman? I mean, I have a long list of blogs and sites I check every day, and that gives me all the food for thought I need, really. I just trust that anything worth my attention will eventually get caught up in that net without me having to go frantically searching for it the second it appears.