Facebook becomes more like Twitter with @ mentions

One theory about evolution of the "at&quo...
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People often describe Twitter as “Facebook reduced only to the status update”. I always found this a poor description, as there was always a significant difference between my Twitter updates and Facebook statuses. With Facebook I can only tell people about me; with Twitter, I can include other people and other topics in the conversation. This is what @ replies do on Twitter - they let me include other people in my updates and associate it with them as much as it is associated with me.

Using @ replies in Twitter is a way to share and connect through content. I can write, for example, about my colleague @cosmond, and include him in the post. That post will then appear on my wall and on Charlie’s. People who follow me or who follow Charlie will then see that I wrote about him.

This is a small but important piece of functionality. It changes my updates from being informational and for my friends and connections only, to being connectors. They organise information based on the people mentioned and connect me with the people I include (and them with me). We move from a situation where I connect with friends and distribute my content, to one where I connect with people through my content. This has a significant impact on the dynamics of the social network; elevating content over just personal connections and allowing you to distribute it further and more easily.

This week, Facebook did become more like Twitter. They have launched their own version of @ replies (called @ mentions), which allow you to include your friends, groups and pages in your status updates and posts on Facebook. You also post your update to your friend’s wall, and link to them. You are starting to connect people to content and to organise what you write. As Facebook say in their blog post explaining the new development:

People often update their status to reflect their thoughts and feelings, or to mention things they feel like sharing. Sometimes that includes referencing friends, groups or even events they are attending — for instance, posting “Grabbing lunch with Meredith Chin” or “I’m heading to Starbucks Coffee Company — anyone want some coffee?”

So, Facebook has taken a step closer to Twitter. Social networks are moving from just connecting people based on friendship to organising and linking people based on content.

  • Facebook copies Twitter, adds @replies (inquisitr.com)
  • Facebook Is Going for Some Twitter Sensibility (nytimes.com)
  • BREAKING: Facebook Introduces @Mentions in Status Updates (mashable.com)
  • Facebook adopts Twitterspeak for tagging friends in updates (venturebeat.com)

Do we all have status update anxiety?

I have to admit that I’m not a regular reader of Psychologies magazine, thankfully my colleague Louisa saw this month’s copy and pointed me in the direction of an article on online update junkies.

There’s lots of discussion of Twitter and social media at the moment and people are now spending more time on social media sites than email. These sites don’t just offer us a way of doing old things in new ways, they also let us do completely new things. This includes updating people of what you’re doing and thinking - status updates. The Psychologies article asks:

Does it seem strange that we would want to share every last mundane dot and excruciating comma? ‘Only up to a point’, says internet psychologist Graham Jones. ‘Away from the internet, we do it all the time without noticing much; we drop phrases like “sorry I’m a bit late but I had to feed the cat” into our conversation - it helps other people build up a picture of who we are’.

I agree that the benefit of status updates (and micro-blogging) is that it provides a service that just wasn’t possible before. In a fairly non-intrusive manner, you can now build a more rounded picture of the people you know or the people with whom you share similar interests. This is a really exciting development as it offers something that just couldn’t be done before - letting  people, who want to, know what’s happening in your life. There is no compulsion to read and no compulsion to reveal things about yourself, but you can if you want.

What is most interesting is to observe how this new facility changes our own behaviour. For those people that are providing us with updates on our life, Psychologies highlights what it is calling ‘status update anxiety’:

For the most part, sites such as Twitter and Facebook are meant purely for entertainment and a mild diversion. However, in the most extreme of cases, the endless tabulating of facts, feelings, roads not taken, and salads not eaten is getting in the way of, well, actually living - so much so that some of us are developing a new syndrome, Status Update Anxiety.

Whilst this may be true for some people, I suspect the ability to life stream (as this is called) is a great way for people to communicate. As with the reason people write reviews, people don’t necessarily update their statuses to inform other people but as an outlet for themselves. They want to write rather than be read, they want to document their lives for the process of doing it rather than because others want to read it.

Status update anxiety? Maybe some people do have it. But I think status updates offer a new service to people, the ability to express themselves and an outlet for their thoughts and behaviours. That is probably reason enough for them to do it, and probably is of real value to them.

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