Tuesday, June 15, 2010

How social is Twitter?

I've been active on Twitter for about a year now and it has become one of the most important tools I have at work to keep track of news and opinions. I get tired hearing criticism of Twitter as mere trivia and pointless updates on where you are or what you're doing. Twitter is what you make it, like most applications on the net. Even if you do only use it to tell friends your everyday routines and activities isn't that really what the vast amount of human interaction is all about anyway?

I have built up a good list of people who I follow all of whom provide useful information. I decided early on that I wanted to use Twitter as a channel for gathering news and so I have deliberately avoided following people who only tweet about their private lives and where they are just now. I don't really mind who follows me as long as they're not spammers and I must admit that there is probably less than a 50% match between those I follow and those who follow me.

This mismatch is highlighted in a post on EduDemic, 72 Slides Prove why Twitter is not very social, which wonders how much interaction really takes place when so few follow each other. Is Twitter in fact more of a broadcast medium? A group of Korean researchers have produced the following presentation which, although highly detailed, shows that a mere 22% of all relationships on Twitter are reciprocal and calls into question the notion that it is indeed a social network.

Twitter is a great way of building a network and establishing contacts but once established I find it best to use other tools to start a discussion. Conversations in Twitter are rather clumsy and are best conducted as direct messages rather than as public exchanges. Direct messages are only possible between users who follow each other so some dialogues are broadcast to all which can be irritating to all innocent bystanders. So my conclusion is that Twitter is a great network builder but not particularly social.

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