If it looks like a social network and behaves like a social network, it's probably a social network. That is, unless it's Twitter. Since before its big revamp, team members behind the microblogging platform have shot down comparisons to Facebook, identifying news as the platform's method of operation.
Did You Say News?
Twitter's Vice President for Business and Corporate development, Kevin Thau, set a small part of the blogosphere on fire when he said, "Twitter is not a social network," at Nokia World 2010. "People use Facebook and Twitter - they don't replace each other."
And while that's all well and good, let's take a look at the some basic definitions of a social network and see if Twitter measures up.
According to Wikipedia:
A social network is a social structure made up of individuals (or organizations) called "nodes," which are tied (connected) by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as friendship, kinship, common interest, financial exchange, dislike, sexual relationships, or relationships of beliefs, knowledge or prestige.
According to Dictionary.com:
A website where one connects with those sharing personal or professional interests, place of origin, education at a particular school, etc.
And lastly, here's a quickie from an e2conf white paper:
A social network is a group of people tied together by overlapping and
Twitter is certainly all of those things, but, according to Thau, this doesn't add up to being a social network. “Twitter is news," he continued. "It is information. Twitter is actually transforming the nature of news. It’s transforming the way you are consuming information and think about news. When it comes to breaking news I don’t think there has ever been a platform as interesting as Twitter."
What's Wrong with Being Social?
As usual, responses have been mixed. "Although this is just a guess, I feel Thau's rejection of the term 'social network' may also stem from a dislike of the more static associations of the word 'network' in particular," wrote Erik Sass of MediaPost. "Like 'web,' 'system,' or 'organization,' 'network' suggests an entity which may contain moving parts, but which is however complete and self-contained -- not active, dynamic, and growing, as Twitter would like to portray itself."
To further fry your noodle, let's add the fact that Facebook's founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, prefers to refer to his popular platform as a "social utility," even though the upcoming movie about his rise to fame is called The Social Network.
We've seen the implications of the words "social" and "network" rub enterprise kids the wrong way for years, but the recent enterprise collaboration boom suggests that many a necktie is being loosened. How interesting, then, to think that the solutions that inspired the change are trying to create distance between themselves and the concepts they spearheaded.
Perhaps there's a better word for what Twitter represents. Since the latest reveal, I've seen "consumption environment," "one giant mashup," "information shower," and "a totally gorgeous platform." What do you think? Are we just being silly, or is "social network" just not cutting it for anybody anymore?