Something happened the other day when Facebook had the “we’re not launching email” email launch, and to increase the irony of the situation, I thought I would go ahead and blog about it. That’s ironic because what led me to the topic of my blog post was a desire to escape mentions of the Facebook press event in Twitter. It seemed everybody was blogging/tweeting about it. Granted, I follow lots of people on Twitter that like to talk about technology oriented things. That makes sense as far as I am concerned, but more about that later.
Because I follow so many who share my industry interests, my stream was overloaded with mentions of the Facebook press event. I needed a break. Did I go outside? No, it’s Chicago, silly. It’s cold out there. Instead, I took refuge from the onslaught of opinions about Facebook in what might seem like the most unlikely of places – Facebook itself.
Hence the irony; yet that very fact brought me to an important conclusion in my independent (somewhat obsessive) study of these new online phenomena. Despite having adopted use of both services while assuming there was redundancy between them and that one service would ultimately “win out” – I have now discovered that my use of Facebook and Twitter is such that each one is relevant in and for its own ways.
When it comes to relationships, there are some that are there de-facto. Like “Tom from MySpace”, we come into this world with a given set of people that raise us, around whom we are raised, and who usher us into adulthood with varying degrees of success. As we move along in life – go to college, start dating, get married – our de-facto networks grow in understandable ways.
Facebook likes to frame these folks as the people you “really care about.”
These relationships – despite their “in real life (IRL)” beginnings – require some very public validation online, especially when it comes to Facebook. You can’t be in a person’s stream without being in their “Friended” network (assuming everybody involved has set their privacy as per recommended) and vice versa.
Interaction – for the most part – is limited to only easily occurring AFTER the “friending” action has been taken – and friending, ignoring, or unfriending occur simultaneous to a level of social obligation – you may feel IRL Thanksgiving pain by refusing to friend your goofy cousin.
Facebook – for me – has become yet another avenue for social obligation to rule my choices, and my feed reflects that. There are folks there with whom I share a HISTORY, and sometimes a PRESENT, but…
That’s why my feed did not contain any mention of the Facebook press event – there are no individuals who share that INDUSTRY related INTEREST in that NETWORK, largely because the folks I respect most regarding those industry related interests have never met me in person and therefore would not feel OBLIGED to “friend” me on a random request.
LinkedIn has attempted to solve this networking problem using a different model, but I’ll save that for another post.
The fact of the matter is that joining a network on Facebook is fundamentally a different process than joining a network on Twitter – and in many cases requires that you have already done much of the leg work of relationship building OFFLINE prior to networking there. Twitter, on the other hand (and in some cases LinkedIn) can be used that way but also can be used to START a networked relationship, not just amplify or digitize it. to build network full of people you’ve never met.
Twitter is filled with the best friends you haven’t met yet. That’s an odd concept for some, but I think those who have been through the process will back me up. Those folks don’t START as close friends, granted. I think that is what leads folks like Malcom Gladwell to claim that the networking ties that bind those on Twitter are doomed to being perpetually loose.
Think about it: You’re at a party and you don’t know anybody there. What do you do, assuming you stay at all? First, you listen. You navigate the room until you locate a pocket of existing conversation the topic of which you can thoughtfully add too and you wait for your turn to speak. Sounds easy, right? Right.
Anyway, on Twitter it is a bit easier because you can listen to the conversation without being obtrusive or intruding. You don’t have to bully your way into someone’s network, you just have to mention their name and they’ll see what you’ve mentioned and perhaps respond. If you follow two people who follow each other you can see their back and forth and bring yourself to the attention of both of them. If they like what they see, they’ll follow you and true dialogue can begin. Take that one step further and try to follow folks within your geographical region and you just might have the chance to solidify those mediated relationships in real life (IRL.)
One of the most valuable uses for Twitter, as I see it, comes from a person’s ability to spend time (albeit digital time) with folks one would want to be one’s peers.
Let me be clear about that – Twitter can be used as a career development tool for locating people who have jobs you wish you had, finding out what they think is going on in the industry, and entering into the conversation in an informed way. Now – playing that out is a delicate walk between creepy and clever, and I have made my fair share of mistakes in that regard, but I believe in the system none-the-less. What are your thoughts?