Commentary

Twitter Says It Is Not a Social Network

twitter whaleThe Gulf War did not take place, according to Jean Baudrillard, and Twitter is not a social network, according to Kevin Thau, the microblogging service's vice-president for business and corporate development. Naturally this raises the question: Well then, what is it?

Several reports from bloggers and the trade press indicate that Thau told the audience at Nokia World 2010 that Twitter is not a social network because "Twitter is for news. Twitter is for content. Twitter is for information." I am not clear on why these two options are mutually exclusive; in fact, it seems obvious to me that an online entity can be both a disseminator of content and a social network linking individuals. Why, it could even enable individuals to disseminate content to each other ... like Twitter.

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Without knowing the precise context in which Thau made this statement, I'm guessing he made this questionable distinction to distance Twitter from social networks like Facebook, which allow users to share the more mundane details of their personal lives -- as opposed to the kind of super-important, thought-provoking (and career-advancing) posts which appear on Twitter.

This is clearly a false distinction. On one hand, Facebook has become a major news source for younger Internet users, according to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. On the other, plenty of people use Twitter to communicate entirely mundane details from their personal lives with their friends.

Although this is just a guess, I feel Thau's rejection of the term "social network" may also stem from a dislike of the more static associations of the word "network" in particular. Like "web," "system," or "organization," "network" suggests an entity which may contain moving parts, but which is however complete and self-contained -- not active, dynamic, and growing, as Twitter would like to portray itself.

So maybe there's a better word to describe Twitter than "social network?" In this vein I would like to present some suggestions which Twitter might find more suitable. Could it be a "content fountain" or "information shower?" I like these because they capture the cascade effect of content sharing on the netw -- sorry, microblogging service. Maybe it's a "pithy party?" Or a "concision engine?" I think "celebrity accelerator" captures a lot of the site's actual utility. Of course, given Twitter's space constraints it may be best to keep it simple. So from now on, as far as I'm concerned Twitter is a "thingy."

9 comments about "Twitter Says It Is Not a Social Network".
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  1. Jon-Mikel Bailey from Wood Street, Inc., September 15, 2010 at 9:07 a.m.

    I like to think of it as a doohickey.

  2. Rick Yuzzi from ZCorum, September 15, 2010 at 10:03 a.m.

    Maybe a "thingamahickey".

  3. Jason Dojc from Edelman, September 15, 2010 at 10:35 a.m.

    Mark Zuckerberg always insists that Facebook is a 'social utility' not a social network. Tom-ay-to, Tom-o-to.

  4. Don Seaman from Ruby Red Advertising, September 15, 2010 at 11 a.m.

    This reminds me of a radio interview I heard a couple of years ago - it was with Robert Smith of the Cure. He said, characteristically with no sense of irony - "the Cure has never been a Goth band." No, Robert, you've only been Goth's poster child, its Messiah.

    Without the social network aspect, Twitter is basically an online index card. Without followers, you'd just be leaving yourself shorthand notes in a well-organized place.

    Only the most sub-atomic particle is only one thing. We are all sums of our parts, in varying percentages. If you really take it meta, the entire Internet is a social network, no? Is the "master status" of the Internet not simply a place for shared content? Therefore, it would follow that anything that resides online is at least part of a social network.

    Perhaps it is just a matter of percentages, then. Throw in the phrase "more than just" and I'd buy it. Certainly, Twitter is be all the things he claims it is, along with being "more than just a social network."

    But I'm sorry, Robert. If the Cure is/was not a Goth band, Goth never existed. Sorry about that. Time to cast off the oppressive mantle of pretense and own your identity. You can even Tweet about why that depresses you so.

  5. Therran Oliphant from xAd Inc., September 15, 2010 at 5:23 p.m.

    Twitter is the ultimate social network. Nowhere else on the internet can you get involved with conversations that expand your reach of contacts as much as Twitter. Not only that, there are "tweetups" where random twitter followers meet up with each other and hang. You don't have forum-ups, or facebookups (and facebook are people you generally already know). Sorry, Twitter is the definition of a social network. They should just accept it...they'll be happier.

  6. Steven Goldberg from Media Recruiting Group, Inc. (MRG), September 16, 2010 at 2:15 p.m.

    I found your article both accurate and amusing. A rose by any other name will smell as sweet. Any attempt to manipulate consumer perceptions about "what Twitter is" shall be a failed endeavor. We all know that as time goes on, what the consumer says something is... it is. I would be more focused on having Twitter be more and more relevant as time goes on.

  7. Jonathan Latzer from MarketJon, September 16, 2010 at 8:33 p.m.

    A "thinkgy" by any other name...Microblogging, Macroblogging, blah-blah blogging or "doohickey is just a rose, etc. We're all talking, we're all stating with grounded (or more likely ungrounded) assessments in the world of "you show me yours and...I don't really care what anyone calls it or who calls it whatever, it's all communication in the 21st Century. BTW...The Cure was never Goth :-)

  8. Francisco Vasquez from Grupo Trebol, September 17, 2010 at 12:38 p.m.

    You wrote:

    "Without knowing the precise context in which Thau made this statement, I'm guessing he made this questionable distinction to distance Twitter from social networks like Facebook"

    If you are just "guessing" and you were not even there, then don't write about it, because it sounds like pure speculation...Yours!

  9. Erik Sass from none, September 17, 2010 at 2:27 p.m.

    Except that I guessed right: Thau went on to assert that "People use Facebook and Twitter -- they don't replace each other," according to the Mobile Entertainment blog. So I guess guessing isn't always such guesswork. Also, why is it inherently wrong to write (or read) something based on speculation? Lots of things in this world are important despite being certain, especially in the arena of news, where no reporter can possibly be everywhere and early reports may be mistaken, vague, or contradictory. Does that mean the events reflected in these reports don't matter? If you wait until every fact you read about is 100% certain and verified in triplicate, you will be reading history -- decades after the fact.

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