Fuzzy Notepad posted Twitter’s Missing Manual today, noting that obscure UI interactions in Twitter often drive people away.
Reading through the list they have compiled, however, I don’t think this stuff has much to do with lack of Twitter uptake. If the worst thing users have to deal with is the difference between “@” and “.@” you’re doing pretty well.
Twitter’s real learning curve is cultural, and it’s interesting to consider why Twitter’s cultural rules are so developed. Here some things you might encounter in Twitter when you first open up your feed, for instance:
- Subtweeting vs. mentioning
- Weird Twitter
- ASCII art
- Hashtag activism
- Reputation stealing (e.g. using “RT” vs. retweeting)
- Hashtag meta-jokes (e.g. #sorrynotsorry)
- Screenshotting text to share it
All of these things are culturally complex. When you livetweet a TV show or debate, for instance, you have to walk a complicated balance that does not overload your non-interested followers while engaging with your fan subgroup. Subtweets appear bizarre to people who are not familiar with the practice. So does screenshotted text. These things are handled by cultural norms and related user innovations.
It reminds me that Twitter, despite its problems, is truly a *community* whereas Facebook is a piece of software. Twitter has a cultural learning curve and Facebook doesn’t, but that’s mostly because Facebook has little culture to speak of.
And here, it’s Facebook that’s the oddball, not Twitter: from the early PLATO online communities to Usenet to LiveJournal to Friendster to MySpace these online spaces developed community identities, conventions, and norms that grew increasingly complex and rich over time. Online communities look exactly like Twitter after they grow four or five years. It’s practically a law of physics.
But Facebook seems, more or less, to have avoided that. There’s little to no user innovation in the space, and about as much culture as an Applebee’s. You don’t log into Facebook one week and find everyone is experimenting with animated gif avatars, or that people have found a workaround that allows them to do ASCII art.There’s no deciphering Shruggie (¯\_(ツ)_/¯), there’s no Horse_ebooks, no bots or psuedobots.
And so the answer to the question “Why is Twitter so culturally complex?” is that it’s the wrong question. It’s Facebook that is the weird thing here, a community that doesn’t develop an overall culture overtime.
I wonder what’s going on? Why is Facebook so culture-resistant? And what does it say if it’s community culture that is getting in the way of Reddit, Twitter, and Tumblr from getting the valuations they want?