Yesterday, I saw this tweet from @just_kate. "Question for everyone: Twitter - Social Network? Still just microblogging? Somewhere in between?" If you read my blog, you know that I do not think Twitter has rules or really allows for a definition and so I sent back the following. "It's whatever you make it, it's both for me."
This is 100% true, one moment I may be talking (blogging) about my latest cooking adventure, only to end up in a conversation about what makes the best Guacamole. @just_kate responded "interesting! What about social networking vs social network? Blog/Twitter a social network or (micro)blogging platform??"
This got me thinking, and I sent a few quick responses using the 140-character platform. The main point that I came to is that people are constantly attempting to put Twitter on a pedestal and say it is special. The thing is, Twitter really is not that special, it's just a new way to share what we've been sharing since we learned to speak. It's a free eco-system that allows you to talk about what you want, but by limiting you to 140 characters it keeps conversations clean and neat. E-mail, instant message, and social networks will all be around for a long time, but you get messages that take minutes to read where Twitter's messages take seconds. This enforced brevity let’s you interact with a lot more people on a daily basis. Twitter just takes online communication and adds what events like Ignite add to presentations.
The second problem is our constant attempt to define web sites as “social networks” and acting like social networks are new. They aren’t new, it's as old as spoken word. I argue they have been online since the Internet first launched. Usenet, forums, and chat rooms were the precursors, and even without a comment system, a blog is a form of social networking. You're publishing for a reason and usually its so people can get to know you. Whether talking about car repair or your kids soccer game you’re building people's image of you. You do the same thing at work when your co-workers come over and ask for advice, or you talk about last night Twins game. You develop new connections whenever you go to a party and meet your friend's friend or meet with a new client. Social networking is just building and maintaining your social network. We can try and make online networking special but it's not, it's just easier because computers handle the physical pieces of our connections for us. We just have to worry about the conversation. Like I said yesterday, "[p]eople want to put Twitter on a pedestal, it's no different than the water cooler or networking at a conference. It's just online".
The truth is the web has always been one giant social network. It may not have been interconnected using terminology like friends/followers; instead, it's built on social connections called links. If you consider the web a university, you could consider individual sites to be clubs or fraternities/sororities. They are just networks inside of a larger network.
I say we stop trying to define these sites and start finding new ways to use them. The truth is, if you are publishing online you are networking, people are getting to know you and your viewpoints. We have always had the ability to create vast "social networks"; it's just easier to maintain them with the tools technology has provided.
Photo via eye2eye on Flickr.