Why Twitter updates are better than Facebook feeds – or not

Gregor Hochmuth has a fine but overinterpreted explanation of why twitter updates are better than facebook. I think that Gregor’s article attributes to the features of tools something that belongs as much to the differing uses of the tools.
Gregor observes that that Twitter messages go to a defined audience, whereas Facebook newsfeeds don’t have the same effect because the items show in the newsfeed are selected by algorithm. This is a good insight, but misses something important – the usage patterns of Twitter and Facebook differ from community to community and from person to person. I recently went on a group mountain bike ride with a group of women who aren’t tech geeks. They weren’t millennials – ages ranged from mid-thirties to mid-forties. The conversation turned to Facebook. Turns out, they use Facebook like people I know use twitter. They post message updates for their friends to see. And, they don’t use Facebook like people I know use Facebook. They don’t have lots of apps installed — not the social, “buy-you-a-drink” apps that presumably appeal to the young and partyish, and not the movie/books/music/scrabble sharing games. It’s a lightweight way to stay in touch. They don’t use twitter, and they don’t need it, because they use Facebook like Twitter. Without the updates “so-and-so rated 12 movies”, the personal updates are visible. So its not just about Facebook, but how people use Facebook.
Individuals also vary in the way they use the two tools to describe their social circles. Some people use Twitter to collect friends. Others constrain their following to a degree of relationship. Some people use Facebook to collect friends. Other constrain their friending to a degree of relationship. The patterns vary by tool and by person. So for some people Twitter is more like broadcast. For some people Facebook is more like broadcast. It depends.
Gregor’s piece also misses a fun and useful attribute of the more diverse nature of Facebook feeds (for users who use Facebook that way). The diversity of applications — and the fact that notices are grouped by app not by user — results in interesting kinds of serendipity. You see movies, or books, or parties, or groups that you wouldn’t always run into because your acquaintances happen to mention them. Facebook multiples referral serendipity. Because Twitter affords and rewards reply, it intensifies conversation and news, but has less diverse serendipity.

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