I heard an interesting piece on Marketplace Radio on NPR this week – Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal interviewed Steven Dubner, author of the Freakonomics concept. During the broadcast, they proposed that Twitter is not a social network.
Essentially, Kai was ribbing Steven for their lack of reciprocity: specifically, @freakonomics has nearly 275,000 followers and, at least until yesterday, they followed not one person. (As part of the broadcast they announced that they now follow @kairyssdal). Typically, as Klout CEO Joe Fernandez explained, it’s considered good Twitter etiquette to follow those who follow you – sort of an act of good faith and reciprocity. (You may remember my recent post on Klout, including what it is, how it’s used and its increasing importance in the online world).
The conversation then turned to those with huge numbers of followers, like Freakonomics, celebrities, or major news outlets. Fernandez explained that those people are using Twitter as a broadcast medium and will sometimes return the favor of a follow, but they likely aren’t really listening. How could they really listen to hundreds of thousands of people?
Personally, I follow nearly 750 people and I find it difficult to sort through some of the information at times. Increasingly, I’m using lists and have attempted to put most of the people I follow into categories to get more out of Twitter. Also, I’m a believer in the reciprocity theory, but don’t always follow someone back simply because they follow me. Normally, I need to see that I’ll get some sort of value from a person’s thoughts before I follow. (Side note: I do follow Kai Ryssdal, but he follows only 32 people, so no love there. Wonder why he was giving Dubner such a hard time for following no one? Following 32 when you have over 3,000 followers isn’t exactly the model of reciprocity, Kai!).
Near the end of the segment, they introduced a gentleman named Duncan Watts, who has written a research piece about Twitter and the differences in the types of Twitter users (celebrities vs average users), how they interact and communicate, and what types of content they create and curate. Watts stressed that Twitter is NOT a social network, since the idea of reciprocity isn’t an underlying theme – but rather an informal trend among some users.
I find it interesting that Watts is careful to make the distinction that Twitter isn’t a social network, but it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t fall into the social media category. Personally, I find that my Twitter followers and those that I follow increasingly are a real network for me. I’ve met many of them in real life and I continue to get a lot of out sharing information with many of them. When I have a question, they tend to answer. I’ve been able to reach out to many of them individually to get clarification, information, or simply ask a quick favor.
To me that’s a valuable network. What do you think? Is Twitter a true social network for you?