Private Networks

I read an interesting post by danah boyd this morning titled, “Twitter is for friends; Facebook is for everybody” that lays out an interesting teen use case for Twitter in light of Facebook’s continued growth and popularity. We’ve known for some time that the age demographic on Twitter is skewed much more towards my place on the spectrum than say college kids or teens. We also know that more and more high school (and middle school) kids are adopting either Facebook or MySpace as a place to connect and socialize with friends. It is in that point that danah makes a really interesting observation when she says the following in response to a high school student named Dylan that she recently interviewd …

What Dylan is pointing out is that the issue is that Facebook is public (to everyone who matters) and Twitter can be private because of the combination of tools AND the fact that it’s not broadly popular.

What she is saying is that because Facebook is so over the top popular with teens, their parents, relatives, and nearly everyone else that Facebook itself might as well be public. Sure it has a lock on the front door, but if every single person you know in real life has that key then there really aren’t any secrets. What is fascinating to me is the behavior “in the know” teens are exhibiting in Twitter to game this “openly private” conundrum they are in … they create private Twitter accounts so only their real friends (not Mom and Dad) can have access to. So FB becomes the place they shout everything, while Twitter is under the radar enough that they can whisper quietly to each other. Amazingly simple and amazingly smart. danah goes on to wonder if Twitter continues to become more popular will teens end up with yet another social network where they really aren’t free to be? Good question.

In my mind I see the same kind of thing emerging in my own social network use — I need different platforms to do different things. Facebook is overrun and I cannot use it like I really want to. Too many people have access to my profile for me to post some of the content I might want to post. Sure FB has the message features, but they feel really out of place — almost like I am violating some code of conduct by sending a private message to a single person in my network instead of writing it proudly on their wall. The Twitter direct message feels very different and I use that quite a bit more. I’ve felt the same pain with IM … over time I collect too many people that add way too much noise to my communications channels and have to create a new account. It seems like we are stuck in this loop and until something more like Google Wave hits we may be stuck in it. Any thoughts?

5 Comments

  1. What I’ve enjoyed about twitter is how to work the various tools to create different “channels” for me. Right now I like Seesmic Desktop for that reason: it supports saved userlists and saved searches. That way I can watch a couple columns and periodically check other threads. The end result is that I have a number of different “communities” that I monitor for varied reasons and purposes. Now I have a growing toolkit at least for Twitter to focus and cope much better.

  2. Hi Cole,

    My first thought reading your post was that mass teen/ preteen adoption of Twitter is not going to happen. Somewhere (maybe another post by danah?) I read about the social persona construction that happens on Facebook and MySpace (i.e., these are the movies, bands, books that I like, etc…) that really can’t happen on Twitter. Persona construction (and especially having it visible to others in their peer group) is important to teens.

    But right after I read your post, I read this NYT article, about MTV’s new replacement for TRL, It’s On. The producers are planning to integrate Facebook and Twitter heavily within the program. Teens in the audience each day will be encouraged to friend producers on Facebook, so that they can share photos, etc… Twitter will be used to integrate what viewers are saying (sounds similar to the way it’s used on CNN, etc…) The host tweets herself.

    It will be interesting to see if this works, and increases teen adoption of Twitter. The last time the MTV tried to integrate online social features into their programming it flopped.

    1. That is really interesting and I will be watching from afar to see how it goes. I just found the post by danah really thought provoking as I’ve not thought of FB as a public place before. It stands to reason that if I let everyone in there really isn’t any private stuff going on. It reminds of something my colleague Elizabeth Pyatt said to me once — closed is as an important degree of transparency as is openness. I think we’ll see greater adoption of Twitter among the teen set … especially if they start to understand how to really work the space (ala @ghbrett mentions). Only time will tell.

  3. I feel like twitter AND facebook are both equally capable of doing the things you’re referring to. Facebook has features that can make it do similar things to Tweetdeck, but both with outgoing traffic and incoming traffic. It just takes some time to configure Facebook to do that. If I have a close set of 12 friends and my FB friends are upwards of 500, instead of dragging those 12 friends to Twitter I can just as easily create channels in Facebook, where certain updates only go out to those 12 people.

    This summer I plan on covering all these settings in detail with the help of Lauren in IST Career Services. She’s put together a great little 1hr session on how to customize FB to do exactly what you want in terms of privacy and various clusters of your friends (parents, teachers, friends, etc)

    1. That would be really helpful as I doubt lots of people get that. I’ve been adding people to groups as I friend them with the hope I can figure out how to effectively utilize them to keep certain conversations private. The big difference I see is that in the FB world even if I have my privacy settings squared away, I show up in pictures posted by others when they don’t have similar settings.

      I think that is the allure of the small closed Twitter circles that are emerging. Everything is locked down to just that group.

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