Turn on any news show-- even a sports news show-- and you'll hear fully-grown, well-groomed anchors talking awkwardly about "tweets". A little of a year ago, when I first started "tweeting", nobody-- including me-- really understood the point of telling everyone what you were doing at any given moment of the day. Now, all of a sudden, it's how freedom-loving Iranians are telling the world of their plight and how diva NFL receivers sound off about their contracts. Twitter is just mainstream enough that professional athletes are "tweeting" on the sidelines or during halftime; yet it's not mainstream enough for owners and coaches to really understand it-- hence the reason many teams have banned their players from "tweeting".
I don't claim to be a Twitter expert or power-user. Neither am I ignorant about it's dangers to our already narcissistic culture. I am not sold out to this little tool. I know it's a fad and a year from now we might be atwitter with something else. Still, as I've considered how Twitter is different than Facebook, and the power hidden in this simple social media device, I thought I'd take a stab at the reasons I think Twitter is better than Facebook:
1. Twitter Is Concise
140 characters is all you get. So, an update is short. In fact, it's not really best for soul-baring, like the "OMG, I'm so depressed because my boyfriend just broke up with me" kind of nonsense you read in your Facebook newsfeeds. It's not even best for ranting about world issues or vague political jabs. Because of the character limit, Twitter ends up being very specific, particular information. Or links to it.
The character limit applies not just to updates but also to direct messages to another Twitter user. Imagine if Instant Messaging didn't require you to sit at your computer for 2 hours just to finish a conversation. Imagine if someone's message to you could only be a few sentences at the most....and that you could reply whenever you wanted...and that it would come to your phone like a text without you giving up your cell phone number. That's why Twitter direct messaging is better.
2. Twitter Is More Private
Twitter doesn't care to know the school you went to, the networks you're part of, or even your marital status. I love that Facebook does all that, but I can see why some would prefer a more private way of connecting. It's this very reason that most athletes, musicians, actors, actresses, and a multitude of minor celebrities prefer not to have a Facebook, but will "tweet" every day. Terrell Owens and John Mayer are just a few examples.
This narrow field of personal information has also made Twitter the ideal social networking platform for many businesses in general, and news networks in particular. For example, I follow the Denver Broncos on Twitter. This means at different points during the day, my routines are pleasantly interrupted by updates on the latest from Bronco Training Camp. There are often pictures and links to blogs about how the new players are doing. CNN, ESPN, and other news outlets "tweet" breaking news...which on a slow news day includes word that Brett Favre is still retired, though he is working out.
3. Twitter Is Targeted
Like Facebook status updates, your "tweets" only go to your friends. The difference is that while you may accept someone as a friend on Facebook who once dated a girl who used to go the high school that was your school's main rival six years after your graduated, you may not really care about what they ate for breakfast. On Twitter you can allow people to follow you while choosing not to follow them. It's not automatically reciprocal. So, you may have 2000 people following you, but you only need to get tweets from people you want to follow...and that list may be only a handful. As a result, your followers on Twitter tend to be people that actually care what you have to say, especially on a particular topic. So worship leaders may follow Bob Kauflin, author of "Worship Matters" (@bkauflin) because they like hearing Bob's thoughts on worship ministry, or receiving links to resources Bob has found helpful, or even occasionally, learning what Bob ordered at Starbucks. The point is, when you send out a "tweet", it's going to people who care about what you have to say even if you've never met them, versus a status update that shows up in a the news feed of hundreds of loose acquaintances who don't have a clue what you do for a living.
4. Twitter is Relatively Instant
Thanks to the iphone, when it comes to Twitter, "there's an app for that." Of course, there's a Facebook app too, but for the rest of us who have non-smart phones (stupid phones?), Twitter lets you text in your "tweets". You can even receive "tweets" via text. (Standard text messaging rates apply.) So if your followers choose that option, you can communicate to a targeted group of people concisely and instantly.
This comes in handy for things like a worship leader telling the choir that practice is cancelled tonight, or an airline pointing people to their website for a limited hour of cheap tickets. Perhaps it will become the way churches do announcements so as to eliminate the commercial break announcement videos in the midst of worship.
5. Twitter is Search-Friendly
Unlike Facebook, Twitter lets you search to see what others are "tweeting" about a particular event or item or person. For example, if you're a young author or musician prone to insecurities, you can see what people are saying about your new book or CD-- hypothetically speaking.
To make the searching easier and more "intelligent", you can use the "#" sign to set apart an event or item. This makes it a hyperlink in your "tweet" so that people can easily click on it and see what everyone else has said about it. I was at a worship conference where they asked conferees to use "#nwlc09" in any "tweet" about the event so they could easily see what workshops people enjoyed and why, and what the buzz at lunch was about. It's realtime feedack.
It's also "everyman journalism" on steroids. For better or for worse, we no longer need to wait for an on-site anchor to tell us about the event; we can look at the "tweets" of the people. The perfect example of this, was, of course, Michael Jackson's funeral. "Twitpics" and "tweets" let the whole world know the real-time inside scoop on that tragic day.
6. Twitter is Helpful
Generally speaking, the best "tweets" are the ones that answer questions or point you to resources. So, don't just "tweet" about what you had for lunch; tell us where to find the best coffee in town, or which free wi-fi spots are your favorite. Tell me a Bible verse that inspired you. Share a quote from a book you're reading. Send a link to a great blog (Ahem). Recommend a new CD. Don't make it diary drivel; make it maven-speak. Let us in our your personal expertise.
There you have it. Now, for the record, I love Facebook and will continue to use it. Facebook is like the town square: it's where we go to catch up with old friends and look at their family pictures or watch their vacation videos; it's where we network and do business and fall in love. Twitter is a like a telegram...on a steady diet of Performance Enhancing Drugs! So, in a sense, it isn't that Twitter is better than Facebook; it's that they're completely different beasts.
Oh, and you can follow me on Twitter @gpackiam! :)