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What Is Twitter Now?

October 27, 2009

Is Twitter a social network or blog? That’s how the conversation started here at Organic…and it blew up from there.

A Social Network
If you consider the definition of a blog from Wikipedia, most of us would agree that a blog it is not. Look at their social network definition. It connects individuals by “one or more specific types of interdependency.” Think friends, family, colleagues, beliefs, interests…

Neither a Blog Nor A Social Network
While some of us at Organic argured that Twitter is a social network, David Lewis pointed out that it lacks one crucial element of what most of them offer: the ability to see the whole conversation. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen someone use an obscure hashtag. If the tweet is intriguing enough I may search the hashtag and try to sift through the conversation to figure out what they’re really talking about. The majority of the time this doesn’t work. I leave the page just as confused as when I entered. Just like in the real world it’s not always easy to edge your way into conversations.

To add to the social confusion, it’s tough to follow complete conversations. I haven’t found one place that displays the complete thread of a conversation between two or more people on Twitter. You see @so&so respond to @her and you wonder what it is that @her asked in the first place. Because of all of this Lori Laurent Smith feels the company should coin a completely “new phrase to define itself.”

Marta Strickland thinks “platform” best categorizes it. And that might be the closest as it’s the tool people are using in three distinct ways. It’s the people who use it most often who are really defining it.

For One-Way Blasts
Clearly everyone has a different view of what twitter is [to them]. It is what you make it. It’s no more than an entertainment channel to some. They might be simply reading for enjoyment or posting into the abyss. Others are onboard to stay informed or absorb learnings from experts in their industry. In both cases, it acts as a distribution channel.

For Two-Way Dialogues
Direct Messages allow two people to carry on a completely closed conversation. I’ve seen a couple brands use this as a way to send their RSS feeds. Okay, so I see the blast more readily, but why wouldn’t you want to include the rest of the Twitter Universe in on the news? Not the most effect use of two-way conversation.

For Multi-Way Conversations
Twitter is also good at facilitating the exchange of ideas. More people are accessing Twitter via various channels (think Seesmic, TweetDeck and TweekGrid, just to name a few) in order to do this more effectively. Organized Twitter Parties use the platform as a kind of live chat, so even if you’re not following someone, you can join in the conversation using a predetermined hashtag. Usually a moderator presents questions or thought-starters in an attempt to keep the conversation on track. Still, it can be tough to keep up. Read a transcript and you’ll see what I mean.

Twitter Now
Twitter is evolving. It’s not the same today as it was when it was started back in 2006. So, it’s not surprising that we have so much trouble defining it. Craig Ritchie claims, “Twitter owns the now.” For some, true. If you’re interested in the conversation right now, then it has you.

But I can bet that your definition of twitter has even changed now that you’ve read this. What was Twitter to you one year ago? What is Twitter to you now?

NOTE: This post originally appeared on Threeminds. Thanks to David, Lori, Marta and Craig for their viewpoints on this subject.

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