Beyond the “Social Network”

Dara Lind from The American Scene posted an interesting piece yesterday in response to another article concerning the rise of Facebook. In it she examines the more theoretical aspects behind the service that both Facebook and Twitter offer.

She writes of how norms of communication and interaction have developed around each one, but that at this point Facebook has a more regimented system through which users interact. Lind uses the comparison of the difference between “unfriending” some on Facebook and “unfollowing” them on Twitter. The former seems to be a direct slight at the friendship while the latter is more informal.

At the very end of the piece she writes that:

This makes Twitter often feel more intimate than Facebook, in fact — the size of the audience may vary, but it’s always a friendly one. Maybe it goes a little too far in this respect, preventing followers from pushing back against users who mix interesting and uninteresting content. But as the site continues to develop, I wouldn’t be surprised if users deliberately changed the way they used Twitter to implement norms that favored consistently compelling Tweets. This is the other thing it’s useful to remember when talking about this kind of site: it’s absurd to talk about how the site “is used” as if individual users have no agency. The question is how individuals use the site, and which kinds of use the company running the site facilitates.

The point made about focusing on how individuals use the site and which kinds of use that site facilitates is a good one, but her earlier point concerning Twitter users developing more strict norms to keep the content compelling is a little off base.

First, there’s already a mode through which users can keep the content that they follow relevant and compelling: it’s the fact that they choose who they follow. Think someone’s tweets are boring and irrelevant, don’t follow them. Furthermore, there are certainly ways of “pushing back against users who mix interesting and uninteresting content.” Plenty of people complain (both over Twitter and on personal blogs) about the ways some users, @guykawasaki for one, tweet.

Personally I find all this talk of how Twitter or its users need to implement more structured modes of interaction to be ridiculous. Most of what I love about Twitter is that it’s so wide open to however you want to use it. Creating more rigid forms of interaction between users isn’t going to further this openness, it’s going to constrain it.