Hunches and Hearsay

I agree with the point of Dustin Curtis's Black Widow:

Twitter was built on the backs of the very developers it is now blocking. It now expects those developers to continue supporting Twitter by syndicating content into its platform, but it no longer wants to provide any value to developers in return.

(Though, I would have ended on "to those developers in return", as Twitter seems more than happy to have three of the four infamous quadrants do their thing; you know, the ones where the users of Twitter are the product being sold?)

But I had to object against the initial argument that Twitter's social graph outshines Facebook's, which was the stepping stone Dustin uses to get to his conclusion. I took to Branch to talk with Dustin about this a bit, but would like to elaborate here, in proper form.

Twitter has an enormous advantage over Facebook in one key area: while people on Facebook tend to friend their friends, people on Twitter tend to follow their interests.

There are many people and brands that I identify with, like or lean towards that I don't follow on Twitter. Why? Because following them on Twitter means putting up with their Tweets. Some of them are simply obnoxious retweeters, some are just noisy or irrelevant to my interests on any given day. But in many cases I like your album, but don't care what you had for breakfast. And because Twitter has no tools for me to manage this, relationships on Twitter remain binary, you either follow, or you don't. Mentions and hashtags provide some semblance of an expanded relationship metric, but it's almost impossible to get intent from a mention. Did I agree with this person? If I did, am I more likely to subscribe to O Magazine?

Contrast with Facebook. They know your age, your marital status, your family, your friends, your high school, college, current and previous places of work, who you most interact with, which locations you've checked into and with who, as well as which people you generally appear in photos with. And they have Likes. Universally scorned by the technorati, the Like button is a veritable stroke of genius, as a fire-and-forget way of defining who you are to the people who follow you. Show me a single Firefly fan who hasn't liked Firefly on Facebook, or a single Apple fan who hasn't liked Apple. Likes are a way for people to define themselves, and as such they are perfect for refining a social graph (where refining means "monetize").

And what's more, Facebook provides users with tools to filter their stream. Don't like a person? Mute them. Don't like a brand? Mute it. It's exceptionally simple. You can Like a band, yet not have their crap fill your stream needlessly.

Dustin countered in our Branch discussion that:

I only have one counterpoint to your response, but it's a really big one: Facebook ads are terrible. Every report about them is negative. They have horrific click-through rates. On the other hand, I've heard that Twitter ads are extremely effective. What does that say about the respective graphs?

To which I replied

Well, it's hard to say what it says about the graphs. It might just as well say something about the complexity of Facebook's site vs the simplicity of a tweet stream. Or it might say something about the business intelligence team at Facebook vs the one at Twitter. Or the audience. It could be any number of things really.

More data is more data. What you do with that data, and who your advertisers are is as important as the kind of data you have access to. Personally I find that all ads are terrible, and I can't remember the last time I clicked one; but then again maybe our ilk are no longer a target audience worth bothering with?

In any case, if I may be so bold for a moment, I find the tendency to bolster arguments, ill-conceived or not, with unverified factoids a dangerous path to go down. Rumors mills abound in the tech world as it is, so when I see something like this:

This is why it has been shown that the vast majority of Twitter users who sign up never tweet, even though a huge number of those people view their feed often.

I instantly have my inner judge strike it from the record, because it amounts to nothing but hearsay. Where's the source? What's the evidence? I think it's right, but where the evidence to back it up? Twitter thinking of itself as a broadcast medium certainly rings true following their recent insanity. But asserting it — and this becomes more true the bigger your bullhorn is — without backing it up? No bueno.