Sunday, July 19, 2009

Facebook and Twitter - What Are the Killer Apps All About?

Facebook - the future of social networking. Twitter - the future of future of social networking, and of media. You know the story of how these are changing everything from how teenagers communciate, tweeners look for and are denied jobs to how those on Social Security are turning to Social Neetworking.

We know the commonly discussed reasons why Facebook and Twitter rock:
  • Strong Connections: Stay in touch with people frequently. Know when they change jobs, or even just change at night to go to bed. Unlike email where people can drift away after a while of no direct contact - in the world of Facebook and Twitter, unliess you explicitly de-friend someone, its forever. More than marriage.
  • Loose Connections: Look Ma, no strings. Have your connections and ignore them too. Unlike email, you have no obligation to answer my updates or tweets. Live and let live but watch.
  • Asynchrnonous: Unlike IM and chat rooms, where we all have to be there together to chat - in Twitter and Facebook - its like a chatroom except you don't have to be connected simultaneously. Geeks call it async communication.
  • Synchronous & Real-time: I am sure you are noticing a trend here - the benefits of Facebook & Twitter emanate from both properties and their corresponding anti-properties. Stephen Hawking will shoot me now. But, Twitter & Facebook do update my status page in (almost) real-time as you tweet or update your Facebook.
  • Mobile: Its on mobile. iPhones. 'nuf said.
  • Discovery: Discover friends. Friends of friends. Strangers with funny pictures. Creeps. You get the idea.
But I think many, if not all, of these attributes are also true of your email & im (short for instant messaging). After all, by using a combination of email and im - I can write to you in a disruptive manner requiring real-time response or can write to you in a non-desruptive manner. Mailing lists, chat rooms, blogs all round out the other many modes of communication. Then, what makes Facebook and Twitter special?

What is it about Facebook and Twitter?

I suggest that the key reason Facebook (and to a lesser extent Twitter) are so popular is because of the following:
  • No Spam: Since only selected friends who I have accepted as part of my network (or have chosen to follow on Twitter) can invade my inbox (or Wall) - your Facebook and Twitter feeds don't include the following- Nigerian Uncle leaving a Million Dollars, Male Enhancement Magic Pills, Canadian Drugs, and Hot Nannies. This functionality can also be achieved in email if you actively maintain a white list (a list of people that you always accept email from) and send all email not from the white list to trash. Essentially, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter help us create Gated Communities.
  • But its Coming: This was true so far. But as with all new modes, eventually man (and monkey) figure out a way to use the machines for un-intended purposes. A Canadian man was recently fined over $800 Million for compromising Facebook users' accounts and then using them to spam. Twitter search will slowly become worse as more fake online identities get created and watching #IranElection as the news developed made me realize that spam is here on Twitter.
So while Faceboook and its ilk have many features and functions that keep us logged in for hours- its the 'gated community' feel that provides an escape from the spam hell that my Yahoo! mail and other email accounts of yore have become; that I value the most.

What do you think? Leave a comment here or follow me and talk to me at


Unknown said...

Social networking tools are popular not because of spam restrictions, but because they offer convergence. My orkut account gets spammed everyday.

Facebook is special among its competitors mostly because:
a. Applications
b. Applications
c. Applications

Its like the iPhone of social networking... it got the market due to modestly cool design and layouts, but stays ahead due to its hugely popular developer program and abundance of apps.

Twitter is a different model. It can convert your life into a "developing story".

So I won't put spam, privacy issues as the primaries behind their success.

Glenn Gruber said...

Anshu, I also think that Twitter has created a new (well 2 years old now) way to get feedback that we didn't have before. I forget who said it, but Twitter is the new water cooler...and it's global, non-stop one at that.

As a marketer, I like that you can keep tabs on the conversations that people are having around specific topics and keep a pulse on the market and uncover new trends faster than you could before (that's the value of Twitter search and hashtags).

But I don't think the walled garden approach will last. It didn't for AOL or CompuServe (or the public internet kiosk network I used to run), but that is how it starts. I think that Twitter and FB have actually come a long way in opening up the platform to developers and creating many ways to enable interoperability with things like Facebook Connect.

Glenn (@ggruber66)