I am sometimes asked ” What is the point of twitter?” by people who sign up and are bewildered by the flurry of seemingly disconnected “tweets”. Even Dave Davison, a longtime investor in and enthusiast of media platforms has asked what is the “Return on Attention” with twitter ?
All social networking is not created equal. My usual answer based upon my own usage has been that twitter will make sense for you if you have an established network of people with whom you have a reason to be in frequent contact and a common set of interests. I have that on twitter with a sizable national security/mil/foreign policy/4GW/IC informal “twittersphere”. If you don’t have that kind of network at least in latent form when you sign up on twitter, its going to be very hard to build one from scratch by following strangers based on random tweets.
As it turns out, research has begun to validate my empirical observation. In social networking platforms there is your formal network but inside it is the real, “hidden” network with which you actually interact:
From Complexity Digest – “Social networks that matter: Twitter under the microscope” (PDF) by Bernardo A. Huberman, Daniel M. Romero and Fang Wu
“….This implies the existence of two different networks: a very dense one made up of followers and followees, and a sparser and simpler network of actual friends. The latter proves to be a more inuential network in driving Twitter usage since users with many actual friends tend to post more updates than users with few actual friends. On the other hand, users with many followers or followees post updates more infrequently than those with few followers or followees.”
What does this mean ?
First, it means that if the IC or military or law enforcement are worried about terrorists or criminals using twitter or Facebook for nefarious purposes, the bad guys will not be able to conceal their cells amidst a large list of nominal “friends” because their manic activity stands out like neon lights against the passivity of the non-members of the network.
Secondly, I’m not certain if this research scales with “celebrity” figures on a platform with huge numbers of followers like Robert Scoble ( Scobleizer 50, 362) or the designer Guy Kawasaki ( guykawasaki 52, 506). These people are deep influencers well outside any realistic circle of actual friends and are followed in part because of their pre-existing status earned in other domains or media.
That said, it’s an interesting concept to think of social media networks having a surface and a hidden or inner network where the real action takes place and what causes transactional movement to occur between the two.
A related post by Drew – Enabling the Power of Social Networks in the IC