paul bennett

Thoughts on Twitter, Social Networks and one-way communication

Posted on: February 21, 2008

I must admit I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the way we communicate via the web. Facebook (and Bebo) were exciting due to the ability to find old friends and reconnect, as well as seeing what everyone else was up to.

The excitement soon faded when I realised the shallowness of the communication created by these social networks. Everyone was talking, but no one seemed to be talking to anyone else. ‘Pokes ‘ were given, people were ‘bitten’, hundreds of ‘friends’ were added, but the communication in these systems is overwhelmingly one-way. The irony is that a system designed to connect people with others ends up being an exercise in narcissism, with people only really interested in broadcasting what they are doing

It’s all about ‘I’m at work’, ‘I’ve added a new photo’, ‘I threw a Mongolian Wildebeest at Jimbo’. Think about it, if you really wanted to engage with one of your contacts on Facebook / Bebo / your-social-network-of-choice what would you do? It’s likely you’d private message them. Which is remarkably similar to….? That’s right – old fashioned email.

Twitter, which I use every day, is a perfect example of this. The very name says it all – it’s a ‘twitter’ of voices – short, snappy messages people broadcast to friends and followers which details what people are doing, where they are, and pretty much whatever else they wan to fit into 140 characters.

Despite it’s addictiveness, Twitter’s noise to signal ratio is even worse than your average social network. Twitter allows you to follow people and to see their comments in you twitter message stream, but these people have to opt-in to see your messages. To someone who follows a lot of people, but has few people following them, this gives the misguided appearance of being part of a conversation or chat, where the reality is that people you’re following have no idea of your contribution. Unless they choose to follow you, they simply can’t see it. It’s one-way traffic at it’s best.

Maybe I haven’t given these technologies enough time or effort, but I’m quickly becoming disillusioned and saddened by the shallow communication today’s ‘web 2.0’ technologies are fostering.

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