Monday, April 13, 2009

One possible difference between Twitter and Facebook

I imitate Jim Bakker a lot in my blogs, often quoting the title of his book "I was wrong." And I'm wrong a lot.

Last Monday, I quoted from a Twitter item that was over a year old.

[I]f you have about 10 followers and you're following about 10 people then you're Twittering away with a solid 50% of others like you using Twitter. links to a Facebook press release with a bunch of interesting stats. I encourage you to go here to look at all of them, but I'm just going to focus on a single one.

Average user has 120 friends on the site

Now while I technically didn't cite Facebook in my previous post (which was, after all, primarily about FriendFeed), this is an eye opener.

Or maybe not.

You see, this may possibly be an apples-to-oranges comparison for two reasons:
  • There is a big difference between the dates of the studies. As I noted previously, the Twitter statistics were posted in early 2008. The Facebook ones were posted in early 2009.

  • This is compounded by the relative age of the two services, since Facebook has been around longer than Twitter (which has, in turn, been around longer than FriendFeed).

  • The two studies present different types of data. Twitter's data doesn't present an overall mean, instead preferring to segment the users into groups. (Based upon Twitter's experience with processing status updates for users with large numbers of followers, this is a wise choice.) Facebook provides a simple mean.

  • Even a mean can be misleading. A simple example will suffice. Let's say that a shiny brand new Service X lets you aggregate information from external sources. In addition, let's say that service X only has two users - Robert Scoble and myself. Scoble chooses to use the service to aggregate a single source - an RSS feed of FriendFeed mentions of Building 43. I, on the other hand, choose to use the service to aggregate 999 different sources - RSS feeds from FriendFeed, Google News, Google Blog Search, et al of mentions of everything from "Ontario Emperor" to "Scrine" to "Rancho Cucamonga Quakes." At this point, someone from Service X boldly states that "The average Service X user is aggregating 500 feeds." Yeah, right.
But, for the moment, let's assume that the average Facebook user does make more connections than the average Twitter user. If this is true, the next question would be, "Why?"

Does Facebook have better hooks than Twitter to keep a new user engaged?

Does Twitter need additional features, such as suggested new friends based on your existing friends? (This is something that is found not only on Facebook, but also on other services such as FriendFeed and LinkedIn.)

Of course this is all rampant speculation because of the measurement issues above. Perhaps a Nielsen or a similar measuring service can come up with a common way to measure both the number of users on a service, and the level of connections between users on a service. If the various social media services agree to sign up for these measurements - and there's no guarantee that they will - then we would have a true apples-to-apples way to compare service X with service Y.

P.S. Is this overuse of Feel free to share.
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