Cultural Resistance

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:

  1. Tweetstorms
  2. Subtweeting vs. mentioning
  3. Weird Twitter
  4. Live-tweeting
  5. Tweet-ups
  6. ASCII art
  7. Bots
  8. Hashtag activism
  9. Tweet-stealing
  10. Reputation stealing (e.g. using “RT” vs. retweeting)
  11. Sea-lioning
  12. Hashtag meta-jokes (e.g. #sorrynotsorry)
  13. 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?

13 thoughts on “Cultural Resistance

  1. I hear you on the Twitter culture and I wrote about it from a slightly different angle on Prof Hacker once – that Twitter works because there are layers of context between people using it (otherwise you wouldn’t be able to have a meaningful convo in 140 chars).

    I disagree that Facebook has none of that. I remember when I logged in once and everyone had a photo of a giraffe on their profile, or when everyone had rainbow colored photos or had the French flag overlaid on their profile photo. Those are things that trend on facebook. In terms of things you actually do, you need to maybe sit with someone who’s much less tech savvy than us and see the kinds of questions my mom asks about it. Think of little things like using the @ mention and then removing the last name, so I can say @Mike and not @Mike Caulfield to you. It’s not like a deep culture or anything, but it has its things.

    In the Egyptian world, there is also something similar to subtweeting and there are different ways of combining Arabic and English text and language that are interesting that is more prominent on Facebook than, say, SMS culture. For example, when being extremely sarcastic, one would write English words in Arabic text (it’s really funny); when one is in a hurry to say something in Arabic but is too lazy to use an Arabic keyboard, we use the English keyboard (it’s not Facebook specific but it’s a thing that people of my mom’s generation didn’t understand at first coz younger ppl don’t send them text messages that way). There are those annoying “chain-mail-like” things and there’s a whole “culture” of spreading hoaxes through facebook with only a few sane people who try to stay critical… this isn’t faculty culture?

    • Thanks, these are good examples. I don’t really mean to say *no* culture, but compared to other online communities throughout history it feels like *almost* nothing to me.

      Email is a good comparison, really. It feels like the level of culture of email (a technology more than a community) versus MetaFilter, DailyKos, LiveJournal, Reddit, or for that matter any of the BBS’s I used to hit in the early 1990s. Twitter feels to me like logging into an online community.

      Email has innovation, some conventions, an idiom and associated literacies. But it doesn’t really have an broad cultural identity the way that online communities tend to, and that’s the difference I’m trying to get at.

      • What the heck is wrong with Applebee’s? 😉

        Also for the list- tweet canoes, the reply to my own tweets to make a string. ASCII art tweets,…

        The hashtag should be the shining trophy culture; a key component of Twitter and one they had spread into other media that came from a community member, not the software.

        The thing might be that there are groups of people for whom each culture has more resonance. Some of us put “Keep Twitter Weird” bumper stickers on our Prius’s while others … well I better not go down that metaphor route.

        Didn’t you write a few posts back how Facebooks lack of individual blog style made it more in a way akin to an RSS reader? Wouldn’t one than say (not me) that twitters quirky culture gets in the way?

        I really dig your classic Caulfied flipped angle on this.

      • Alan — Yeah, it all sort of comes together, really. I think blogs, for example, aren’t really a community in the way that Twitter is, although in things like ds106 they can be roped together that way.

        I think people think sometimes I’m saying one or the other is evil and one is good. But I don’t really see it like that. It just struck me as odd I’d never seen the difference this clearly — that I log onto twitter the way I might log on to DailyKos or an old BBS, whereas I log onto Facebook in a very different way that doesn’t feel much like these previous communities at all (including Friendster).

      • Maybe your Facebook network is more dominated by real-world “friends” and thus not an interest-based subculture?

        Also: Blogging felt more like a community in the 90s and early 00s, because there was more in-joke cross-linking, etc. Because it was a smaller group.

      • Bill — this is true, blogging in the early days did have some of these features. Friday catblogging on the left was an interesting one for instance.

  2. The number of times I plan to see Facebook is dwindling. I’ve done all I can to expose their flawed approach to accounts. But yeah thanks for your “like” f*** the likes and the reactions and the … whole thing

    • I can’t reply to the comment reiterating community on Twitter and I wanna unpack that.

      I see Twitter as a network not community. I feel no shared identity with the entire globe of Twitter users, yeah? Maybe Twitter is a network of a collectiom of communities and the use of multiple hashtags on a tweet highlights this. But not every hasthag u use is a community one (e.g. #edtech or #highered or #moocs) but some are (e.g. #digped, #rhizo14) – and many ppl use Twitter in non-communal ways. I know many of those. Sure, I look upon them with pity “poor you, you’re not making the most of Twitter” but really that’s just the wrong attitude 🙂

      I do think it’s difficult to permeate Twitter but as a network and not community, it’s a little more permeable to new members, as are Twitter communities more permeable than e.g. a Facebook group because u don’t need permission to join, or watch. Right?

    • “U talkin to me, Alan?” (Robert DeNiro voice)
      I was planning to tag some folks to read that post but ended up tweeting. I click Like to denote I read something or bookmark it or whatever. Sorry if you thought I actually liked it or something lol.

      • If the like fits where it. Yes I know the shades of use. But I wonder about people who consider the like/retweet/share as doing something. It is but its tiny. Not talking to you, Travis Bickle!

      • Sharing IS doing something. It means I found ur piece valuable to other ppl and I am sending it to them. It can be a lazy one (retweet) or a more intentional one (tweet quote or tag certain ppl). Silly boy 😉 who is Travis Bickle?

        Ppl don’t always have sthg of added value to say but they want to smile or nod at u. Seems like a waste of space to put a smiley as a comment?
        I just emailed an lol to someone. Feels like a waste of an entire email message…but there was no like button 🙂 i like Slack’s range of reactions possible

      • Yes sharing is something. Try this on– you are someone who calls out a lot of injustices that deserve action, right? Are you okay seeing a grave injustice if all the responses are shares and likes? I am totally frustrated that no one seems to take my issue more seriously– I am not talking about you, ok?

        Travis Bickle? Cmon if you are going to drop the Deniro reference… (That was his character in Taxi Driver you referred to)

      • Haha i don’t watch lots of movies so I don’t even know which movie that was from (don’t think I ever watched it). The DeNiro part is one my hubby does a lot as a joke, that’s why it came to mind.

        Very often specific things related to injustice get many more shares/likes than anything else. There will always be more ppl willing to share/like than willing to respond/act

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