Tag Archives: Offence Taken blog

Facebook and Twitter: The Frankenstein’s monsters of social media

1 Jul
Image courtesy of http://mjmvital.wordpress.com

“Urgh, retwrashtwags”

Facebook or Twitter?

Pick one.

For years, this has been the unspoken ultimatum between users of the two most popular social networking sites. And for a long time, the two sites were different enough to warrant the demand. For the sake of setting the tone, indulge me in a quick comparison of the two.


At the time of writing, Facebook has around 1.11 billion users. It’s a digital entity which focuses on real world connections. As a rule, people only befriend people they know, and within the Facebook culture it’s considered creepy if you start stalking people. Can’t think why.


Twitter, on the other hand has 500 million users, and stalking is considered good practice here. Stalking is the only approach you can take on a site which focuses on online networking and digital communities.

Despite their differences, if Twitter and Facebook don’t constantly adapt to meet the changing needs of their users, then they will both eventually meet the same digital demise. It might seem unlikely right now, but it seemed unlikely of the Yellow Pages once, too. Oh, and MySpace. Remember Myspace? Nope? I didn’t think so.

Merging for survival

So, MySpace.  Bebo. They’ve all but disappeared, dwindling in popularity at around the 30 million user mark (might sound a lot, but it’s really not). The reason this happened is simple: they didn’t keep up. They believed that they had the social thing nailed, and ignored the changing needs of their users. Oops.

But Facebook and Twitter are doing alright, aren’t they?

Well yes they are.

But despite their proliferation, we know they’re trying as hard (if not harder) to keep up with the needs of their users as any of the lesser known sites out there.

But oftentimes, like some sort of digital Frankenstein’s monster, they borrow features from one another, tart them up as something different and sew them in. But these features don’t always transplant well. Not well at all.

Hadn’t noticed? Well that’s because Facebook and Twitter didn’t get where they are today without being pretty good at covering their tracks.  But you’ve got me now, so listen and learn.

Sharing vs. Retweeting

Initially a function on Facebook, ‘sharing’ was met with crippling ambivalence, like a useless appendix. While early Twitter users could quote another user’s tweet with the “RT @username” convention, or include a weblink in their tweet, the introduction of the official retweet function (Twitter’s equivalent of the ‘share’ button), made sharing stuff as easy as, er… clicking a button.

Unlike on Facebook, Twitter users tend to have thousands rather than hundreds of connections, so if the right person retweets the right post to the right people, you get new followers.

Image of a pun retweeted, with 9 new followers

You’d never have this luck sharing a crap joke on Facebook

For example, @gaystarnews recently retweeted a pun I made about Cher to over 20,000 followers, 8 of which immediately followed me, with another 15 over the course of that day.

Facebook? The average user only has a few hundred friends. So if I share something, I might get a few comments but that’s where the buck stops. While the introduction of Facebook pages has gone some way to improving the use of the share function, organ rejection is just a step away…

Like vs. Favourite

Unlike sharing, the ‘like’ button gained popularity fast on Facebook. Taking the simplicity of the defunct ‘poke’ button (aimless, therefore useless), a ‘like’ became an endorsement of somebody’s post. The more likes a post  has, the more likely – excuse the pun – a user is to click on it. Then Twitter decided to copy Facebook by introducing the favourite button.


Great though it is as a bookmarking function, Twitter could never have predicted that for many users, the favourite button would become synonymous with the retweet function, rendering it as surplus as a third leg.

Screengrab of tweets being favourited but not retweeted

Oh Twitter, all these wasted retweets.

Instead of being forced to share something they like (thereby spreading information, encouraging participation and engagement and the overall growth of Twitter) the favourite button has given Twitter users the option to simply flag a post instead of retweeting it. The lesson for Twitter here? Because something works on Facebook, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll work on Twitter.

Hashtag vs. …well, Hashtag

Oh the contentious hashtag. Facebook recently embedded the hashtag, popularised by Twitter. On Twitter, the hashtag allows users to find trending topics and all the tweets posted by other users who have used the same tag. It’s an excellent way of filtering posts from the 500 million-odd users you have access to. Adopting this functionality is a predictable move by Facebook… but without some serious emergency surgery, it’s not going to stake.

Why not? Because without a massive cultural shift in the way Facebook members use the site, people won’t be able to access half of what is being posted.

Search result on Twitter for '#obscurehashtag'

Dare you to try the same search on Twitter.

On a site where you have all your information in one place and no control over friends posting and tagging pictures of you, people tend to value their privacy, and if they’re privacy settings are on ‘panic room’ then it doesn’t matter what they’re hashtagging.

The unchanging difference – public versus private

Here’s the clincher: Facebook is about sharing all of your personal information with relatively few people; photos… interests… friends lists, everything. On the flipside, Twitter is all about sharing very little personal information with pretty much anybody.

When Twitter was born, 140 characters of restrictive bliss meant that people could no longer bore you to death with their incessant drivel  on Facebook… However, while the user interface has changed very little, when you take a moment to consider everything now tucked away behind it… Twitpics, Instagram, Vine, blogs, and any number of other plugins and apps; it becomes very obvious that the gap between Twitter and Facebook is not as wide as they would have you believe.

They are both bound by their own success. Twitter now faces the challenge of making users share more personal information, while Facebook is trying to encourage its users to share their personal information with more people.

The big secret: it’s in our hands

If Twitter and Facebook should learn anything from MySpace and Bebo, it’s that the only way to survive is to swallow other entities as they evolve – but they need to swallow the right ones. Like it or not, these sites are now so hooked into the lives of their users – us – that they no longer have the ultimate say in where they’re going. We do. You do. That’s right, you.

If, like me, you detest hashtags on Facebook and loathe favourites on Twitter, then this is my request to you: don’t lay back and take it.  Make a fuss. Ultimately, it’s us as users who do the decision-making. And that’s what Twitter and Facebook are trying to keep from us; that we decide which limbs to lop off and stitch on to another social site. Try as they might to take control, they will never succeed.

Though they walk out, confidently presenting new features as their own, in the hope that we will blindly accept them, it is in fact only when we do blindly accept them that they stick. We’re the real geniuses of social media; the crackpot professors, sitting in our turret laboratory testing out new features and seeing what works. It’s what we do and say that shapes where they go: we gave them life and we can take it away.  And personally,  I think that’s a pretty powerful thought.

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Apple is still innovating… perhaps just not how you’re expecting

28 Jun

Do you know what I’m tired of? I’ll tell you.

I’m tired of seeing advertisements for smartphones that make me feel inadequate.

I’m tired of seeing beautiful people in private member’s clubs, looking no more dishevelled as they pour themselves out of cabs at five in the morning than Kate Moss on a photo shoot.

And I’m really tired of learning that people who own smartphones are always having fun, laughing over upbeat music, as they sit there in their perfect clothes, running around beautiful landscapes, taking photos of all the friends they’ve made because they have the coolest phone on the beach.

Advertising fatigue

These kinds of advertisements are not for consumers like you and me; they’re for a demographic of early smartphone users who have long since disappeared. How do I know? Because we all now own one. And yet, this is still the way we’re being sold to.

Galaxy S4 Group Play Ad

Take for instance the recent Galaxy S4 advert. It shows off the ‘Group Play’ function in a locker room filled with chiselled hunks. They need motivation to win their Basketball game; something I can of course relate to.

HTC One Boom Sound Ad

Or there’s the HTC One Boom Sound advertisement, which demonstrates another feature – frontal speakers that improve the listening experience, because every person who owns a smartphone loves the latest bands.

The problem is, it’s not just hipsters and teenagers who own smartphones now. So isn’t it time to move on from this narrow, under diluted perception of consumer appeal? Smartphones aren’t new any more. And while Samsung and HTC might not get it, with a great sigh of relief, I am pleased to say: Apple gets it.

And now for something a bit different…

Here comes the breath of fresh air.

Thank goodness for that. Thanks Apple.

Until now, smartphone and tablet advertising has focused on the rational ‘you need this feature’ advertising appeal. But Apple’s new approach takes a welcome step away from this. It’s distinctly emotive; arguably a little overdone, yes, but this is new territory, so I think we can cut them some slack. Largely, the iPhone hasn’t changed, but this new marketing approach acknowledges that we, as consumers, have. Who needs product innovation when you have product placement innovation?

Gone is the slick, the modern, the minimalist. Instead, Apple has brought back the clutter, the real world – a girl on her bed, children in a classroom, a woman on the subway – no longer people in glorious, unrealistic and featureless environments. Yes, it retains an element of Apple’s clean advertising, but that’s their brand. Nonetheless, Apple has tapped into the truth that people’s lives aren’t shiny and perfect as they’ve been made out to be. For me, that’s where the emotional connection lies – Apple are acknowledging that they’ve been wrong, while simultaneously asserting that, once again, they’re the first to get it right.

If that’s not enough, then the ethereal, acoustic soundtrack ought to win you over. It’s burnished with naturalism rather than with a cheap, irritating hook (I refer you to the Galaxy S4 advert above). We can suddenly let ourselves feel that Apple understands us… that their new smartphone will blend perfectly into our daily – real – lives.

Innovation in advertising

Despite complaints that Apple is failing to innovate, such as this one by Heidi Moore in the Guardian earlier this year, it is clear that they continue to stay one step ahead of consumer fatigue.

I know what you’re thinking – this is just an ad campaign – and you’re right. It might not seem like a big step. But then consider that this is arguably the first smartphone advertisement of its kind which promises to improve our lifestyle without shoving sexy features down our throats. And it comes from a company that brought us the smartphone in the first place… Does that not count for something?

I predict that this is a benchmark for smartphone advertising. I’m not saying the campaign is perfect, but it’s a start. Apple made a name for itself by doing what others didn’t dare to try, and now they’re doing it again. This ‘feely’ advertising might be sick-making for some, but looking at the bigger picture, it makes a damn refreshing change from the norm.

Made in California. Bring it home, Apple. Good work.

Keep up with all my latest opinions by following me on Twitter, @WillHillier.

Do you disagree? Here’s an alternative perspective.