UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Facebook Or Twitter – Or Facebook And Twitter

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 15 April 2008

In the opening plenary talk on Hands On The Internetat the Museums and the Web 2008 conference Michael Geist mentioned the popularity of Facebook in Canada – apparently Canada has the highest per capita Facebook usage in the world. And, as described in a blog post on the talk by arkrausehardie Michael described the “enormous pressure a sort of flash-mob FaceBook group can bring to bare (sic!) on public policy such as the recent group started by Geist on copyright issues in Canada, now with more than 40,000 members“.

The interest in the potential of Facebook for engaging with a museum’s user community was described in a number of papers at the conference. For example Shelley Bernstein’s paper on “Where Do We Go From Here? Continuing with Web 2.0 at Brooklyn Museum” described the ArtShare Facebook application they had developed to “share works of art from Museums around the world“. And a paper by Brian Kelly and colleagues at the Canada Science and Technology Museum on “Social Presence: New Value For Museums And Networked Audiences”  described “specific experiments with social media, including a detailed analysis of a Facebook group used by the Canada Science and Technology Museum Corporation’s Membership Program“. In addition the paper described “two theoretical models – the “Innovation Radar” and genre analysis – to help analyze the nature of the opportunities for innovation, and to develop a better understanding of the distinctive characteristics of alternate communication channels“.

And yet in some circle such use of Facebook is being derided with comments such as “It’s a closed garden“, “Its popularity is on the wane” or “Twitter is a better development environment” being made. I have to say that I find that such comments tend to miss the point.  A recent post on “The Becoming Uninteresting Complex – Facebook versus Twitter” commented on the “pretty irrational questionings like “is Twitter replacing Facebook?“, Twitter doesn’t allow socialization. It simply allow instant interactions“.

And as can be seen from a Siteanalytics snapshot which compares usage of Facebook and Twitter,  it you want to make inappropriate comparisons, it’s Twitter which fares badly.

Facebook and Twitter Usage

Making these points, I should add that we shouldn’t explore the potential of Facebook uncritically. But the early adopters do acknowledge some of the concerns which need to be recognised. Dawson et al have commented that “There are, however, a variety of potential pitfalls with social networking sites. One concern is whether such sites are a fad or flash in the pan“. The paper goes on to add “Issues of privacy are another important factor. Users of social networking sites appear to be willing to live with great compromises in their privacy. However, even these broad boundaries have been tested a number of times. Facebook, for example, has risked alienating its users in controversies such as the introduction of the news feed in 2006 (boyd, 2006a), and the more recent introduction of the “Beacon” in 2007 (Hirsh, 2007).

So let’s be realistic and continue the experimentation and debate. But let’s also be critical of our preferred environments.  And although I’m a happy user of Twitter and participated in its use at MW2008, looking at the hashtag data for the mw2008 tag I would acknowledge that it was used primarily by a small group who knew each other – and indeed went out drinking together.  Twitter can be useful for some – but it’s not necessarily the killer application for everybody.

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7 Responses to “Facebook Or Twitter – Or Facebook And Twitter”

  1. Two comments on your slightly simplistic use of Siteanalystics to compare Twitter with Facebook. Firstly, almost nobody uses the Web interface to Twitter – whereas everyone has to use the Web interface to Fb. Secondly, the growth numbers – as opposed to the headline numbers – tell an interesting story.

    That’s not to argue that Twitter is more popular than Fb – of course it’s not – just a caution about using Web stats for anything! :-)

    Stephen Downes has a nice characterisation of Twitter as being ‘inward-facing’ rather than ‘outward-facing’ – http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=44015

  2. Hi Andy – the simplistic use of stats was meant to illustrate similar over-simplicities made by others in suggesting that facebook is dying and will be replaced by Twitter.

    The growth numbers may be interesting, but there needs to be an understanding of the base levels – if numbers of service grow from 1 to 2, that’s a 100% increase, but is also irrelevant.

    BTW do you have any figures on Web vs client use of Twitter? I was surprised recently to find a number of people who use Twitter seem only to be aware of the Web interface.

  3. Owen Stephens said

    firstly we need to expose resources in a way that makes it easy to integrate with other environments (e.g. Rss and other structured formats, clearly documented apis etc.) then communities can integrate with their desired environment (whichever of fb and twitter is currently the most popular, its almost bound to change over time). Once we’ve done this, if we have resource available we should start to engage with the audience we want to target and work out the best way of delivering into an environment for them – this could be any number of routes including fb, twitter, myspace, Bebo etc. However the first thing is to make it easy to integrate our systems with other environments – then the uses can be empowered to do the integration we don’tget round to. If you buildit, they will come …

  4. I know people who ONLY use Twitter via sms interface…

  5. http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/top_twitter_clients_definitive_list.php

    Link heads over to ReadWriteWebs recent analysis of How We Tweet: their figures show 56% which is around what I’d expect. Social Networking Services are by design ‘inward facing’ – they depend on users conception of a community (feel free to call it something else) within which they are operating. However, the distinction between inward and outward facing isn’t very satisfactory – you may well be blogging to a relatively closed community or inadvertently telling the world your not very flattering opinion of your employer within the perceived safety of your ‘inward’ facing network. Will get my post up about this tomorrow, promise :)

  6. Mia said

    I only signed up for twitter for the MW2008 conference. The back channel kinda worked for getting a sense of what was going on in the other sessions, and for finding people who think along similar lines, but it might have seemed like a closed circle and been off-putting to other people. I don’t know how much I’d use twitter now we’re back in the real world – is anyone that interested in what I’m doing post-conference?

    I guess it’s a different group to friends who’d see Facebook status updates – I wouldn’t expect them to follow me on Twitter cos I’m talking about different things. Social network sign-up fatigue FTW.

  7. [...] a recent post, Facebook Or Twitter – Or Facebook And Twitter , Brian Kelly [...]

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