A million trees falling in a million forests and no one is listening because it's so damn loud!
I can say with some experience that all of the social networking sites are big messy piles of stuff that barely works or mostly irritates the users. The only thing I feel these sites do well is connect you to people you may have lost touch with. However they all do so behind a "walled garden" so you must first join the site to know if it's worth your time to join the site. The number of sites I've tried out is in the dozens and without a doubt most are useless unless people you know are on them.
I think that their might be a better way. I think most people would be better served dividing their attention between two main tools, a personal Blog and Twitter (until it dies or something better comes along.) I'll make the case for my point of view with an exploration of my experiences with the social sites most people use.
Let's start with MySpace.
When MySpace was a new and interesting place to find people who shared common interests and old friends you'd lost touch with it served a very useful purpose. The members of my band, Marqui Adora, joined MySpace in the early days of the site and MySpace is partially responsible for connecting the members of the band to one another. We even have had our music placed in a Toyota advertising campaign through some of the connections we made on the site. We interacted with people all over the world and made some of their days a little better with a few rock tunes, which is more then I could've hoped for as a musician playing in a band in Florida.
Now the bad news. By the time we reached 10,000 MySpace friends we had largely lost touch with those who gave a damn about the band. We had to turn on every spam blocking tool on the site to stop the flood of band and business friend requests. Anyone who was genuinely interested could not be separated from the users who just wanted to let us know about a brilliant business opportunity. Our time on the page became triage and delivered none of the creative inspiration that it did when we'd get a ringing endorsement from one of our MySpace friends. It stopped being a communication tool and became a shitty neighborhood where everyone has bars on the windows. It went from open and wild to closed and regulated with no one searching for new music or new friends. I deleted almost every friend on the band page in an attempt to re-boot the site to something more useful. At the moment most of our "friends" have not even noticed we are gone from their friend lists.
The problem with MySpace is that if you are interested in a person or band they have to add you per your request and when they create that link you have equal claim to their attention in a 1 to 1 relationship even if they have 10,000 followers. It's as if everyone watching a play could talk to the actors all at once while they are on stage in the middle of the play. As you might imagine your attention gets further removed from the creative work that attracted the new friends in your efforts to keep them happy. A cycle is created in which the more people you connect with the less you will create the thing they liked in the first place the more they introduce you to their friends. (I'll come back to this idea when I get to Twitter so keep it in mind.)
MySpace to Facebook is a step down not a step up.
Around the same time Facebook was becoming a new place that people started to flock to. So we each created profiles and searched for friends again. At the time I thought, and still do think, that Facebook is one of the worst designed websites ever. If Jonathan Ives or Steve Jobs ever created a social website it would look nothing like the unorganized clutter that Facebook represents. Your Facebook page has crap on the left. crap on the right, crap at the top, stuff on the bottom left, stuff on the bottom right and some other junk in the middle with no sense of what is and what is not important. It's user interface is embarrassingly childlike and should be taken out back and shot.
On MySpace you would encounter the problem of pictures, gifs and animated videos being put on your page at random by friends. On Facebook they added the ability for poking-snowball-vampire-mafia apps. FUCK YOU! It's as if they decided to make the internet a place where otherwise intelligent and thoughtful people would behave like idiots!
Now please consider this, when was the last time you saw a post on Facebook that was a clear and unique perspective or thought? It can happen but I bet that you remember it happening more on MySpace. The reason, MySpace has blogs and blogs are ment to be journals and places for introspection. I would never write something this long for Facebook because the medium gives it no weight or permanence in the eyes of most Facebook users. (Those of you reading this on my Facebook notes page it is really being reposted from my Blog, "A Total Waste of Time" over HERE.) I have a page on Facebook mostly to keep in contact with people I don't otherwise see or talk to. Both Facebook and MySpace are good for that purpose but that is all in my opinion. I'd rather everyone I know have a blog on Blogger or Wordpress and a Twitter account and I'll explain why in another post to follow shortly. (...maybe)
As an aside, to give credit to Facebook, it has one advantage over MySpace in that my status updates come from my Twitter posts not from the site itself because of Facebook's ability to interact with other sites outside of it's walled garden. Having said that some of the functions added by Facebook Apps are useful but the vast majority are very spammy.
What makes Twitter different.
The most obvious differences are that Twitter only allows for 140 character posts and limits the customization of the users page to choosing a background image and a few short notes about who you are. With a sparse homepage your use of Twitter is not about flashing gifs and snowballs but is instead focused on the content of the brief messages you transmit into the electronic landscape of your followers. The 140 character limit has spawned a range of applications like URL shorteners, the Diggbar and music search engines that let you link to a music file. A great many sites now have a letter T that lets you post a story to Twitter in a few clicks. Also the sparse nature of Twitter has inspired truly creative people to come up with Twitter clients like my favorite for the iPhone and Mac OS X, Tweetie.
A less obvious difference is the way that Twitter allows you to follow anyone without requiring them to do anything or follow you back. And to me that is one of the most important differences to the site and it's usefulness.
How Twitter is better from the follower's perspective.
One of the reasons I enjoy Twitter is it fixes the way most of the web is slanted towards those who comment rather than those who create. If Merlin Mann posts something funny and insightful on Twitter I don't have to read or even see the 30 people who feel they must inform the world that it is neither funny nor insightful. I can enjoy his art for what it is in it's own context. Now consider a typical MySpace or Facebook page and how that would differ. First it would be reposted and fill up your entire bulletin list in an attempt to spread it beyond just Merlin's followers. Second it would be reposted with additional commentary like "This is Funny!" so it will lose some of it's subtle surprise. (Side note: if it's funny I'll know it when I laugh.) On Twitter there is no room to comment other then a "RT" or a "via" so it can maintain most of it's original intentions without having additional opinion or commentary. That doesn't mean you can't comment all you like it just means you will not likely interfere with the experience of most of his Twitter followers. And that is why Twitter wins for me, I get to hear from the people I want without having to wade though the commentary from strangers who might put only the effort required to say "sucks" and push a button to pollute my absorption of an idea.
Twitter behaves more like a news program that can occasionally take calls when they want to. The main content is a one way exchange of ideas from the person you follow to you the follower with some interaction between the people that person follows. Interaction only occurs at the choice of each participant and so it becomes more meaningful. (well it could at least, YMMV)
How Twitter is better from the creator's perspective.
For the person doing creative work it also allows the creator to regain control of their interactions with those who consume their creative output. On Twitter following everyone who follows you is not required and is actually the wrong way to do things. When someone becomes a burden on your Twitter timeline you can simply un-follow them either temporarily or permanently and regain control. It allows the artist to communicate to their fans in a way that has no cost on their time beyond what they choose to allow. The 140 character limit encourages them to be brief and get back to making things for their followers to consume and enjoy. An example of this type of use is Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails who has a Twitter account and actively uses it in a way he never has with the multiple NIN.com sites he's had over the years. Another telling example is Amanda Fucking Palmer, who uses Twitter to invite fans to impromptu concerts and also to get song request while onstage at the venue each night while she performs.
If these artist opened their Twitter and saw every comment from the peanut gallery they would likely close the window and never come back again or never have time to go make something new and exciting because they would feel compelled to read all the incoming messages and reply to them. This is one of the major advantages to Twitter. If you are interested in someone they do not need to be interested in you for you to be able to follow what they do. Trent Reznor does not know my name but he can tell me his thoughts on a new synth or an album without him needing to know me as an individual.
Twitter allows for a creator to speak directly to his audience with no intermediary dulling down or altering his message. It allows for the creator, at their choosing, to respond to something they perceive as an inaccuracy in a reporters story or to let their audience know that they've created something for them.
Twitter is not a replacement for a blog.
It may be called a micro-blogging service but Twitter is not the same as a dedicated blog page. A blog is a place for long form thoughts or a series of thoughts or photos or videos collected together as a record of prior events. It is ment to be a journal and should be used in that way. Not everyone needs a blog or Twitter but I think both provide unique forums for people to express who they are and what interests them.
I have more thoughts on this I'll post next time...
In the meantime: