Social networks are not information networks - whatever some power users might think, says silicon.com’s Natasha Lomas.
Twitter is not the same as Facebook or Google+. There, I’ve said it. And, for the benefit of certain internet power users, such as Robert Scoble, I’ll say it again: Twitter is not the same as Facebook or Google+. Nor should it be.
Facebook and to a lesser extent Google+ are, first and foremost, social networks. Twitter is an information network. That’s a big distinction.
A social network is a network of people connected by acquaintance, whereas an information network draws people together based on interests. The first set of connections are typically forged - in the first instance at least - by geographical proximity. You need to have been in the same room as a person in this network, at some point in time.
Of course, you also probably have shared interests - or you wouldn’t end up becoming friends. But at some point you need to have met this person to add them to your friends list. Some Facebook users do add people they’ve never met to their friends list but this is the exception, not the rule. After all, it’s called a Facebook friend, not a Facebook follow.
By contrast, an information network enables people who have never met to meet virtually and exchange ideas - regardless of whether they have ever pressed each other’s flesh. This approach is remarkably liberating and can be extremely powerful. Connecting previously unconnected individuals who have knowledge that can help each other can, arguably, fuel social change.
So the average user - that is, not Robert Scoble - of social and information networks will have very different social graphs on each of these services. Of course, there will be overlaps - and individuals met in one world may well filter by osmosis into the other - but the two are not the same. Nor should they be.
Why not? Because, even though the power user may not be able to see it, these networks have different uses. This difference is not, whatever Robert Scoble thinks, a bug - it’s a feature. It’s one of the reasons why people use both Facebook and Twitter. They fulfil different uses. Why would you want them to be the same?
A social network can be a useful tool for keeping up with friends and acquaintances, and letting them see photos of what you’ve been up to lately. Such behaviour is entirely appropriate and useful for friends. But why share such personal stuff with random strangers?
But an information network is about information. It’s a tool for tracking topics that interest you. This tracking can include people - but it’s not limited to people you happen to have met in real life. Its scope is much wider.
Information networks allow you to follow and interrogate data, tracking users who know things you want to know as and when you want to know them. Such a connection may be as fleeting as a few minutes or hours, or last much longer - depending on your interest in the topic. Information networks are by nature…