Monday, March 14, 2011

There Is No Twitter vs. Facebook

There was a time not too long ago when my roommate and I would spend hours on a Saturday night drinking beers and debating who would win the battle of the internet: Facebook or Twitter. We came to a few conclusions from those discussions: 1. We really needed more friends, and 2. we were convinced that Facebook was destined to slaughter Twitter.

Facebook was in the middle of introducing incredible new features. The idea of Facebook connect was a single sign-in solution that seemed like it might actually work. The ability for websites to add social context to any page easily with the "Like" button was revolutionary.  Meanwhile, Twitter wasn't doing much.  They seemed to be busy trying to figure out how to make money and get rid of the infamous fail whale.  It seemed pretty obvious that Facebook was the hare and Twitter the tortoise.

Fast forward to a few months ago when revolution began sweeping through Northern Africa. There were many realizations that came from the protests, and one of them for me was that Twitter and Facebook will co-exist because they are used for very different things.  And if I had to live with only one of them, I would choose Twitter every time.

Facebook has been (and still is) in the process of changing the way people use the internet. The ability to bring your friends into your online world and communicate with them so easily is ushering in a revolution and we have only scratched the surface. But the same thing that makes Facebook so amazingly useful is what ultimately limits it: friends and networks.

Twitter is different.  Right now, anyone with access to the internet, can create an account, and join any conversation in the world.  By including a hashtag (#tag) into their tweet, they are instantly connected to people all over the world.  Groups on Twitter are created only when there is a purpose for that group.  As soon as the conversation ends, the group ends.  This allows for a constant evolution of groups as the events or conversations change. Messages can contain multiple hashtags which allow for similar topics to merge seamlessly.

Facebook keeps you in contact with the people you know.  You can instantly get feedback on whatever is going through your head, and that feedback has more value because it is from people you know.  But that's all it is, feedback.  Posts with comments. Twitter does not provide feedback (some might consider retweeting feedback, I don't), it provides a conversation. And a Twitter user with no followers can join any conversation instantly using hashtags. Millions of people being able to discuss any number of topics instantly all over the world. Most of those topics are worthless. But some of them have the power to change the world.

As I said before, friends and networks are Facebook's greatest assets. But they are also what will keep them from ever conquering Twitter. People post on Facebook because they have friends and want feedback.  People Tweet because they want to be heard.