Explaining Twitter

September 21, 2011 § 1 Comment

I am amazed at how many people who I know tell me that they don’t understand Twitter. Let me re-phrase that…I am amazed at how many people who I know that use facebook religiously and don’t understand Twitter.  Here is the short explanation of Twitter…Twitter is similar to the facebook newsfeed for people whom you are interested in but don’t know. If you want the long answer, then read below.

(note, if you don’t know what the facebook newsfeed feature is, you should stop reading this now…you won’t get it. You should also get your head out of your ass and recognize that it is 2011 and nearly 1 billion people use facebook. You should at least understand it.)

Social Media as I understand it.

In real world life, you have networks of people who are somehow connected to you. These networks span a continuum of how closely connected you are to the network participants. Some networks are made of tight affiliations – i.e. your family and closest friends. People you would tell anything to. You also have networks of acquaintances, i.e. people you have done business with, or friends of friends. And you have extremely loose tie networks, i.e. people whom you have never met, but follow in a voyeuristic manner (i.e. Kim Kardashian). These people entertain you or are people you aspire to meet/know/be. Social media platforms reflect your personal network continuum. Each has a unique ecosystem that fit neatly into these three buckets:

  1. Tight-tie networks
  2. Acquaintance networks
  3. Loose-tie networks

Social media platforms exist to simplify communication and/or provide entertainment/distraction while appealing to our natural desire for information or voyeurism from these three network groups.

  • facebook was initially conceived to discover what was going on with your college friends. The natural growth for a medium like facebook is always to move toward the tighter end of the continuum. Meaning, if you sign up because all the cool kids on your college campus are using facebook, you will recruit your besties and probably your family. facebook’s power is that it not only captures a communication (and voyeuristic) medium for your tight network, but also your close acquaintances. It is also no secret that facebook’s initial use case was to help you get laid in college. Which is a very powerful use case.
  • Moving to the right on the continuum is LinkedIn. That network is almost entirely made of acquaintances…specifically business acquaintances. LinkedIn’s ecosystem has evolved where you can “connect” with people you have a business meeting with. It is like saying, “hey, I want to check out your resume before our meeting.” It is a low threat way to give information about your professional history/skills.
  • Moving to the extreme right of the relationship continuum is Twitter. Twitter is almost exclusively built to improve communication among people whom you don’t know, and probably will never meet.

Twitter’s Product

For those of you whom have never used Twitter, think of it as the newsfeed feature of facebook, which anyone who wants, can view by “following” you. Not only can people see your newsfeed (which is contained to 140 characters on Twitter), but you can see anyone’s newsfeed, just by “following” them. You can search for people and click a follow button and you are plugged into their Twitter stream. If you read something interesting that someone you follow wrote, you can “re-tweet” it and anyone who follows you, can see it in their feed.

How I use Twitter

I use Twitter for two purposes:

  1. More relevant newspaper. I follow interesting people, who often Tweet interesting news that they create or read elsewhere. I basically let them filter the news for me. And I digest what’s left with a smile. It is really interesting info.  Anyone can and should use Twitter for this use case even if they never Tweet or get a follower.
  2. Spread interesting info I create or find elsewhere to my Tweeps (i.e. Twitter followers).

Twitter’s Power

Twitter’s power is rooted in its loose tie network. The reason this network has been built so fast is due to the fundamentals of its product.

  1. Low threat connecting – Following a newsfeed is a low threat action. So low threat that stars are willing to let you follow them.
  2. Low friction content creation – 140 characters is easy to type
  3. Big, non-overlapping circles. I think of the world as a series of concentric circles of people. The looser the affiliation, the less overlap in the concentric circles. The less overlap, the more people hear about news that is passed on from people who you know (or whom follow you). This power is leveraged by the re-tweet feature.

Given the above product design, information flows faster and wider on Twitter than on any other medium in the world. Let me emphasize that point…a company started in 2006 moves information faster and to a wider distribution than any other medium in the world. All due to the power of social media and the loose tie design of the product. Pretty neat…huh?


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