Wed 14 Jan 2009
Maybe this post is for geeks, but perhaps not. Twitter is a social networking site that allows you to send and receive short messages to your friends. Facebook, I’m sure you’ve heard of. Twitter is much trendier, much more elite, than Facebook, but I’ve pretty much given it up these days. According to Tom Reynolds, I probably shouldn’t admit this, or I will be shunned by the cool kids. However, I feel that I should explain.
I joined up to Twitter reasonably early on for an Australian, starting in March 2007. I wasn’t a huge user – perhaps posting about once a week. But I was there for the first meet-up of the Melbourne Twitter Underground Brigade in June 2007. These days Twitter is pretty big, with some people estimating about 5 million users, even the PM has been seen to use Twitter, and there are some pretty good features that it supports:
- You can create an alias for people to message you on. You can give out this alias, rather than a “real” identifier for messaging (such as your email address), to protect your privacy a bit.
- You can set up the alias to deliver messages to you in the form that you want, without the sender having to know anything about it. You can receive messages as emails, IMs or SMS, for example. And reply back in that form as well.
- You can send messages to all your friends in one go. This is something that is not easily done with SMS, for example, without paying a fair bit of money, e.g. four times as much for four friends, etc.
- You can publish messages so that anyone can come along later and read all the messages you sent out (and potentially join up as your friend).
- It was extremely low cost (you only paid to send SMSs, in Australia at least, while all the messages you received were free).
Aside from the publishing aspect, which is rather interesting, these were all things that it’s been known for a long time that people like. No wonder Twitter was successful. I found it an easy way to keep abreast of my friends’ moods and activities. Australians were the sixth largest user of Twitter via SMS.
However, then in August last year, Twitter stopped delivering SMS to anyone outside of North America and India. They had to do this, because it cost them a lot of money to send all those SMS messages, and they weren’t getting any commissions from the mobile operators outside of those regions. Since SMS was the main way I used Twitter, it pretty much cut me off.
Serendipitously, Facebook was undergoing a redesign around the same time. The new design was clearly influenced by the success of Twitter and the status update field and feeds of friends status updates now appeared prominently.
My friends around the world have been gradually appearing on Facebook. Even those who don’t do geeky things. Even my parents. But where Twitter was like an open field where all were welcome to gather and communicate, Facebook is like a gated community or a private club – you are only welcome if you’ve been invited. Philosophically this is something I really hate. Sure, I like my privacy, but I don’t want to feel like I’m locked away. I don’t walk down the street hidden under a shroud, and I don’t think I need to be treated that way online. I occasionally blog. I post my photos to Flickr.
That said, I was forced onto Facebook in order to communicate with my friends who were using it to communicate with me. If I wanted to see their photos, they were on Facebook. If I wanted to see their mood or hear about their activities, it was on Facebook.
What changed is I got an iPod Touch, and installed the Facebook application. It was almost like using Twitter again, except even more people that I like were on it.
One day, Twitter might sort out a way to make enough money to pay for those SMS messages, bring back the features I want, and somehow attract all my Facebook-loving friends onto it. But until then, I’m stuck with Facebook, and despite my initial reluctance to join in, I find myself using it more often than I ever used Twitter.