The 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.
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."