cyberspacial musings
bits about the real and virtual worlds

10 Feb

From ListServs to Facebook Status

I had an interesting conversational experience in Facebook over the weekend that highlighted a problem with Twitter as a social tool.  First a little background.

I started using Facebook before starting to use Twitter.  I used to go into Facebook to update my status pretty regularly, but I wanted to understand Twitter better.  So I got a Twitter identity (@kosherhog) and started updating my status in Facebook via Twitter.  I like the general model of anyone being able to follow my “tweets” easily, but there’s something significant missing from it — the conversation.

When Facebook switched to their “new” user interface, they added the ability to comment on a status.  While on the surface that seems pretty mundane, it’s actually a hugely powerful metaphor.  In fact, I’d argue that this feature may be one of the most important social networking features of them all.

In the “olden days”, many of us subscribed to e-mail lists (listservs).  For those of you not in my Internet generation, the motion of a listserv is one of writing an email, sending it to an address and all subscribers to the list get the message.  From there, responses go either back to the individual or to the entire list.  And that’s where the conversation occurs – replies to replies creating a thread of messages on a given topic.  The challenge with a listserv is that the initial message should be something “significant” — more than a sentence, perhaps with some thought about the content.

The status comments are essentially the social network replacement for this.  As I said, this past weekend I was in Facebook and one of my friends posted a simple status stating that he “is thinking about diets”.  There are 10 comments attached to that status now.  Essentially, this person’s status message created a conversation merely by indicating what was on his mind.  This conversation is where we really start to bring the social into social networking. 

And this is where Twitter fails.  Sure, I can reply or send a directed tweet, but there’s no place for a conversation to break out.  Once I realized what was going on (perhaps it was obvious to many of you) with Facebook status and comments, I now think that the right motion with Facebook status is post everything (that I can share publically) on my mind and see what conversations evolve.  For example, today I was thinking about a custom paint job for my motorcycle, what the best fax to e-mail service is these days, and a bunch of work stuff that I can’t post here (I can think of 5 or 6 topics).  If I had posted 1 sentence everytime I started thinking about something, I would probably get engaged in a few conversations as folks commented on my status that might help me think through these things. 

So it turns out that Facebook status is really not a microblog in the sense of publishing — it’s really more of a way to start a conversation.  Rather than thinking of something cute and pithy to post (which I’ll probably still use Twitter for), it’s really more interesting to post what I am really thinking about and see who bites on the conversation.  In fact, it will be interesting to see how many discussions actually start as a result of a Facebook status message — that will be a good indicator of what the people around me are interested in talking about as well as how interested they are in what I am thinking about. 

It’ll be interesting to see whether more people get this over time.

2 Responses to “From ListServs to Facebook Status”

  1. 1
    AmyGeek Says:

    And Friendfeed does an even better job of it because it’s open like twitter, but aggregates content from many sites – all of which can be discussed. +you have the advantage of feedback from all different kinds of people rather than a small subset of folks you know + great search functionality.

  2. 2
    jeff Says:

    That’s probably true, but I haven’t enjoyed using FriendFeed the way I enjoy using Facebook. There’s something impersonal about FriendFeed — too geeky, not social enough.

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