Twitter is no "Social Network" but a "Conversation Swarm"

I have made some remarks on this earlier here in a German post:
Was ist Twitter? Jedenfalls kein Social Network! (feel free to drop a tanslation link in the comments ;) )

As the topic came up again I made some more remarks in a Twitter conversation and I'll doument and elaborate them here for further discussion:

@MattBlaisdell was asking why I said that 'Twitter is only a SN if you follow 150 or less'.

I replied
Well 140 chars are a little short for this argument. Some ppl tell me 150 is what they can really follow and read.

I think Twitter is a 'different tool for everyone'. U can use it as an SN, as an RSS reader, as a monitoring service etc.

In the SNs I am in (Xing & FB) I have about 1000+ contacts each. Too many of those are 'met once never talked to again' ppl. In the case of FB I am rather tolerant, I am more strict in XING, which is a business network.

What Twitter 'is', depends on who you follow and what you do with what you (could) read.

To elaborate a bit (but I'd really like to continue this in the comments together with my readers):

On a more sbstract level Twitter does NOT show 'who I know/talk to' (social network) but 'who I wanna read' (more alike to a blogroll or OPML-file with a list of RSS subscriprtions.

IF there is a conversation (thus an exchange and thus again the basis for something called a 'network' whether social or not) depends on the question whether people 'follow back' and listen.

Now if you 'follow back all' this does not scale (as Scobleizer has proven).

If you do NOT follow back you create asymmetry and thus it is no network any longer but just a channel, that is very often one way: peolpe can read me, but they will not necessarily be listened to when they talk back.

Through the additional fact that someone who does not follow @userabc AND me will not see when I send a public reply @userabc. ONLY when that person visits the page with only MY tweets will he/she be able to extract that part of the conversation. IN addition to that many conversdations are fragmented by the fact that some users have their streams locked and are thus nio findable via search.

So in short: Just because I read @CNNbrk I do not create relationship or conversation there...

Claudia Klinger has onnce in a German article in her blog described this as: "it is not a (chat)room but a swarm". A description that has helped me very much in understanding the 'nature' of Twitter.

What Twitter is in my optinion is a 'Swarm of asymmetic conversations' and a kind of 'swiss knife conversation tool' that can be different for each person. But NOT a social network that 'graphs relationships'.

Your opinion? Why would Twitter be a SN?

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  2. I fully agree. Twitter is no SN, because no tool can be a SN. People build SNs, not tools. A SN is free to use twitter as tool for their conversations, exchange of ideas and strengthening of their personal relationships. But THEY are the SN, not twitter.

    1. Thnaks for that hint as to terminology.

      OK, there are two things the 'network' and the tool U use to 'manifest' the network (meetings, KLassentreffen, POst, Newsletter, E-mail, 'Social Software').

      Twitter sure has its social components. But as opposed to FB (e.g.) it's not NECCESSARILY a tool for 'Socialzing'. (FB is (also) on the way to becole a (self-/product-/brand-)marketing tool.

      So I meant SN in the sense of 'tool that lets you manage your SN' in this case. I guess IU am not the only person using the term that way :=)

      But I guess we need to have a conversation what the 'social' in social web/software/network is.

  3. for being so widely used as a key term, the notion of "network" in general is surprisingly vague.

    i'd say that a "network" is a dynamic structure that creates network effects. it is about the traffic, neither the roads nor the connected places. a network is about the connectivity turning connected elements into nodes. it is not about a static structure of connected elements. (this is a possible, even probable consequence.)

    a so-called "social network" then is not "made of people" but made of communications. asymmetry is not a problem, as long as the network as a whole creates multiple dynamic feedback effects.

    what widely is called a "social network" (eg. the FOAF structure as modeled by Xing) is just the visible sediment of vital and dynamic network activities.

    true, such a sediment is then acting as infrastructure, influencing network dynamics, increasing the intensity for some connections, decreasing traffic at other places.

    is an RSS subscription structure a "social network", then? well, possibly. the RSS-o-sphere, like the blogosphere of old, tends to create more or less manifest networks of attention.

    as a whole i'd argue that social networks are primarily about a loose connectivity of attention: paying attention (and sending impulses demanding attention).

    on top of this more "closely joined network structures" may develop, relying on more highly defined connections, like "messages" instead of mere attention events in a social network built on e-mail (or Facebook, or MySpace, or even Xing ...).

    having said that, i agree with what you say about Twitter: it can be many things, not just a social tool. but all of these things may be about network effects created from attention impulses (of some kind).

    1. MAybe I should clarify the reason I made my first statement, that "Twitter is only an SN wehen you have < 150 contacts".

      IT was a reply on a Tweet that stated that 'Many ppl are unfollowing in large numbers. Is Twitter no longer an SN?'

      So the idea was that an SN (as software) would manifest relatonships that are "stronger" that a mere "I'll read your twitterstream"-attention-relationship.

      I just wanted to stress that 'following ss/o on Twitter' is far less strong than 'friending s/o on Facebook' (or LinkedIn or XING.)

      OTOH I useed to say: The Internet (not the web) is made up of humans, not of machines'.
      So I have a hard time to see 'communication' (of a certain quality?) as the center of the web/net/SN and not so much the person.

      And again Twitter:
      If someone complains about irrelevant tweeting , I usually say: "In Twitter you are the only person who is responsible for what you allow in your stream or not..."

  4. I don't know if, semantically speaking, Twitter is or is not really a "social network." My original point was simply that when I started on Twitter (about a year and a half ago) it seemed that the prevailing attitude was "hey, let's share" (even if that sharing was often rather random) and, in recent months I've observed a very noticeable trend to it becoming, more and more, "hey, listen to me." I referred to that as going from a "social" to a "broadcast" mentality - but perhaps those are the wrong words. Nevertheless, whatever the proper terminology is, the effect saddens me, personally. IMHO, it's the wrong direction. Still, I also agree (and, in fact, have also said before) that Twitter is many things to many people.

    Interesting that you mentioned Scoble, since I suspect that, in part, this recent movement to unfollow everyone after you've built up a base of followers, is in part influenced by his change in attitude/approach.

    At any rate, thanks for the food for thought.


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