Twitter is not a social network

Just a couple of days ago I had a discussion with a friend of mine about Twitter.  He is not too much into social networks, but hearing all the time about Twitter, he decided to give it a shot again, and still felt that it was in no way suitable for him.  Normally, that would be enough for me to jump into my zealotical advocacy mode.  However this time I felt different.  I said that I’m not all that hot about Twitter anymore as I used to be.

You see, back in a day, Twitter had two things important to me, that it lost on the way to where it is now.  The first one was SMS gateway.  People could interact with Twitter via SMS.  This was important to me, because I could practically get anybody register at Twitter.  My grandparents know how to send SMS, using their pre-historic mobile phones.  Also, SMS coverage is way better, more reliable, and cheaper than any mobile Internet connection.  Unfortunately, Twitter limited its SMS gateway from global coverage to only a selection of countries (US, UK, etc), which don’t include the countries where I or my friends and family live.  A huge disappointment.

Secondly, back in a day, Twitter was about status updates.  That was partially enforced by the SMS user interface, where you just couldn’t assume that everyone has a browser nearby or even an Internet connection.  So the messages were more of the text and less of the links.  With SMS gateway going away, and with plenty of online marketing and PR people joining Twitter, this was also gone.  Now, most Twitter messages contain a link to an external resource.

I think that that also changed the culture of a place.  Before, 140 character limitation had a very good reason to be in place – that’s how many characters there are in an SMS message.  People were encouraged to formulate their updates within this limit.  Now that Twitter updates are mostly links, nobody cares about that limit.  Why would I want to limit myself to 140 characters, when I can use as much of them as I want and just tweet a link to my text?

So, if it’s not a social network with status updates anymore, what is it?  A news source?  But we had RSS for that, didn’t we?  Yes, we did, and we still do.  But RSS works differently.  RSS is more of a source-based system.  You pick your sources that you trust and want to follow – CNN, Slashdot, etc – and you subscribe to their RSS feed.  This will make sure that you get all published items, whether you are online or not.  If you’ve got a new interest or hobby – just find a few more sources of wisdom and subscribe to their RSS feeds.  Handling too much?  Just unsubscribe from some and you done.

Twitter is different.  It’s not so much as a source-based system, but an event-based system.  It doesn’t matter who you follow and what your interests are.  If something happens, you’ll know about it on Twitter.  A gadzillion people will tweet and re-tweet about it, and you will eventually catch it.  Or you can search for keywords that you have interest in, and then it will work very much like Google Alerts, letting you know about tweets that matched, no matter who or where posts them.

I am, personally, not a big news person.  I don’t care much about news.  What I care about are opinions and thoughts about news.  So for me personally, Twitter is not that interesting, because it only tells me what happens.  Slashdot and a collection of my other two hundred or so feeds tell me what happened and what people think about it.

For the last year or so, I only new that I am floating away from Twitter.  Yes, it’s there.  Yes, it’s getting more and more popular.  Yes, I’m pushing a bunch of links to it too – my blog posts announcements, some delicious bookmarks, an YouTube favorites.  Occasionally I even tweet a thought or a quote.  But I don’t read and follow it as much as I used to.  For the last couple of weeks or so, I was trying to figure out why, and now I think I have.

But until today that was only me and my thoughts.  Today however I got a confirmation of my thoughts being in the right direction.

Kevin Thau, Twitter’s VP for business and corporate development, announced during a presentation at Nokia World 2010 today that everyone’s favorite micro-blogging network is not actually a social network.

It’s not, you say?

No, says Thau: Twitter is for news. Twitter is for content. Twitter is for information.

ReadWriteWeb is one of many resources reporting from Nokia World 2000.

5 thoughts on “Twitter is not a social network”

    1. I disagree. My Twitter stream is an aggregation of my social networks activities – saved bookmarks, favorite YouTube videos, etc. Some of the people who read my blog have no idea how to follow someone on Twitter or on YouTube, or never thought of doing so. For them, a digest of daily Twitter activity in a single post is a convenience. I know because they told me so. :)

    2. There are still people that use Twitter to let friends/family/coworkers know whats going on instead as a marketing tool. I don’t see a problem with posting a Twitter summary on your blog. Blogs are, after all, personal web logs.

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