Blogs vs Twitter? It’s the Interactivity

In a  post that appeared remarkably soon after my last post in which I noted that I am easier to find on Twitter than on Online Fandom these days, Rob Walker of Murketing and Buying In fame, expressed “Nostalgia for Blogs” and lamented:

I checked the Twitter feed and it was, of course, far less substantial than the blog had been. In fact I didn’t seen a single tweet of interest, whereas this person’s earlier blog posts had been, with some regularity, worth a look. If I don’t “follow” this person, I miss the possibility of some future interesting tweet — at least a link I would have missed, something.On the other hand, if I do follow, I clearly have to wade through a bunch of garbage. The signal-to-noise ratio will clearly be way worse than it had been on the now-dying blog. I’m interested in this person’s thinking — but I’m not that interested.

I wouldn’t want to presume he’s talking about me*, but either way, I’ve got some thoughts.

I agree with him that blogs are (sometimes) more substantial and I think reports of the death of blogs due to Twitter and Facebook are wrong. For me blogging has been a great way to collect and share thoughts on a particular issue, to collect ideas for future longer projects, and to create a public persona as an expert with something to say about the topics I know a lot about. I like to think the blog has been useful to people I wouldn’t otherwise get to communicate with. I’ve come into contact with many people, especially those on the ground addressing the issues I write about here, through this blog. Blogging has been and I hope it will continue to be great. It also takes a lot of time to get a post to what I want it to be before I post it.

But that said, I think Walker’s characterization misses the point on a few scores.

1) Twitter isn’t a substitute for blogging. Some people may choose to Twitter instead of blogging, but I wouldn’t assume that anyone has that kind of either/or relationship. A tweet is not meant to accomplish what a blog post is meant to accomplish. Neither’s killing the other, they aren’t in competition anymore than, oh, say writing books vs. writing a blog.

2) People like Twitterers’ minutia. In my case, though we’re not talking big numbers either way, more people follow me on Twitter than subscribe to this blog. One man’s garbage is another’s treasure, or entertainment, I guess. People — even smart thoughtful ones — actually LIKE the mix of links, random thoughts, and bits of daily life. They LIKE watching the person, not the topic. I know I do. I find Twitterers who stick to posts about their one professional interest boring. Other people love them, and more power to them. I don’t. IMHO, that’s what blogs are for. If you come to Twitter looking for ideas about a topic, you’re better off watching Twitter trends and searching keywords than following individuals; Twitter usually offers great topical coverage only in the aggregate.

3) Looking at a Twitter feed or profile isn’t the same as following someone on Twitter. People who don’t actually use Twitter think that you have to read all the tweets that are directed specifically @someoneelse.  If you follow from within a Twitter account, there’s a setting so you don’t have to watch that banter unless it’s between people you also follow. That changes the signal/noise ratio  a lot. Yes, there will still be tweets you don’t care about, but let’s be honest, can you name a single blogger who posts only posts you find interesting? I sure can’t.

4) Twitter is about banter. That banter is the best part. I’ve written this blog for a few years and I’ve talked to lots of bloggers. Getting people to post comments is hard. Getting conversation going is harder. The majority of things I write here get no response at all. On Twitter I don’t get responses to everything I say, but I sure get a lot more fast feedback than I do here. It’s also a lot easier to make a quick response to someone else — much more so than commenting on a blog post, especially if, like me, you read your blogs through an RSS reader. That back and forth makes me want to keep participating in Twitter. In comparison, blogging feels like a solitary endevour.

5) Twitter is temporal and cumulative. I made this mistake myself; it’s not until some time after you’ve decided to take Twitter seriously and made it part of the ritual of daily life that you really get it. If you check out someone’s feed, you can get a sense of whether they’re interesting to you, but it’s not until you live with someone’s tweets day in and day out that you know whether the rhythms and content of their messages are going to be rewarding or not. It’s not like a blog where you can read all the archives and get pretty much the full effect. On Twitter, it’s what happens interactively amongst the twitterers over the long haul in real time that makes it interesting.

6) Twitter is a great site for language play. The 140 character limit is a fun challenge for wordsmiths, and those who do it well are joys to read. As a genre, insamuch as it is a genre, the language of Twitter is just way more fun than the language of blogs.

7) Ugh. Can we just quit judging every new mode of communication that comes along and finding it wanting in comparison to the last one? Haven’t we been doing that for millenia? Don’t we always look back later and feel kind of silly?

Don’t like Twitter? Don’t use it! Disappointed someone’s blogging less? Encourage them to keep on blogging by letting them know how much you appreciate the volunteer work they do through blogging. But don’t be disappointed because people don’t twitter how you want them to blog. That just doesn’t make sense.

* Update 03/09/09: Rob has assured me since this was posted that he wasn’t.

Life on the Move: Social Network Roundtable audio now up

Last week I attended the Association of Internet Researchers’ 9th annual conference, this time in Copenhagen Denmark. One of the things I did there was participate in a roundtable about social networking research called Life On the Move put together by Daniel Skog (Umeå University, Sweden) and Lewis Goodings (Loughborough University, UK). The other panelists included Malene Charlotte Larsen (Aalborg University, Denmark), Raquel Recuero (Catholic University of Pelotas, Brazil), Jan Schmidt (Hans Bredow Institute for Media Research, Germany) and Amanda Lenhart (Pew Project on the Internet and American Life, US).

We look at a diverse range of sites in different countries, including LunarStorm in Sweden, Brazilian use of Orkut, Danish youth on and more, as well as taking broad perspectives such as Amanda’s work with Pew that starts with users rather than sites. Despite this, we found ourselves agreeing on many many points, particularly the need to acknowledge that people move amongst many different sites both online and off (I was intrigued by Malene’s point that people spraypaint their Arto usernames on subway walls). The discussion with the many people in attendance was very high quality.

Thies Willem Böttcher was kind enough to record the session and an (85MB) mp3 is available here.

Many thanks to Daniel and Lewis for getting us together, and I hope those who were there found it helpful and that those who weren’t will enjoy the audio.

How strengthens relationships and creates new ones

One of the big questions raised by social networking sites is what the heck those “friendships” really are. In this paper, written with my former Ph.D. student and now Ohio University professor Andrew Ledbetter, we examine this in the case of Based on a large survey of users, we pose the question of what predicts how strong or well developed friendships are.

The short answer is that the best predictor is not shared taste in music (which has no effect on relational development), but how many different ways people communicate with one another. For each medium added, people’s relationships are a little closer. This means that sites like can provide pairs with an additional way to maintain and strengthen their relationship that goes over and beyond what they get through email, instant messaging, phone calls and other means of interaction.

On the other hand, the “friendships” that begin via don’t go very far, even if shared taste was important to the relationship’s initiation.

Overall, the “friendships” on are pretty weak. The notion that shared taste makes people “musical soulmates” makes for good mythology, it seems, but not strong interpersonal connections.

You can download and read the paper here. For reasons I don’t understand, the tables did not get included in this PDF. If you really want to see them, email me.

If you’re in Copenhagen this week for Internet Research 9.0, drop on by and hear this presented live in person.

Online Music Discovery in Action

An anecdote from my weekend. First, a cut to the moral: Online music discovery is largely about architecture within and across sites, personal connections and serendipity. Focus exclusively on algorithms and radio streams at your peril.

Between about 1988 and 1992 I worked at a record store. My boss there was a cool local musician friend with great pop taste. When I finished my Ph.D. and moved away, he and I kind of lost touch except occasional reports from mutual friends.

A few weeks ago, he showed up on Facebook (as a number of my significant lost people from the 70s and 80s have started to lately). Yesterday he posted some pictures, including one of Future Clouds & Radar — “my fav band, listen to them please” he wrote. He mentioned they were the same guy as Cotton Mather, whose record Kon Tiki is one of my favorite albums ever. What can I say? I was reared on “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and Rubber Soul.

I went to immediately where there were 2 free downloads of theirs plus complete streaming of their 27 song double album. I downloaded. I listened. I liked. I checked out Amazon. All 10 reviewers had given it 5 stars.

I went to eMusic 10 minutes later and bought it all, including the 2 songs I’d just downloaded for free (even though it only had 4 stars there, too Beatleseque for some, apparently).

Now I’m blogging about them.

This is just a mundane little moment in one person’s musical life story, but it’s got some lessons that are important:

(1) I knew this guy from way back. He came prepackaged with massive credibility. The trick for the internet was to make his music recommendations available to me.

(2) He did it not through a playlist, not through a music application, not with a widget, not by sending me a link, but by posting a picture of the band in his Facebook photos (probably technically an IP violation and certainly not a venue seen as music recommendation related).

(3) Until the “new” facebook design, I almost always forgot to look for new friend photos. The new tab layout has made me remember to check for new pictures, so I actually found that picture.

Most online music discovery people assume that music discovery happens through radio, offline or online, which I admit much of it does, or through recommender systems, which again do have sway. Reviews in sites like Amazon, eMusic, and places like Pitchfork or Drowned in Sound are surely important.

But it’s very important to remember the serendipitous ways that we stumble across music through our connections with friends, and the need to enable that kind of discovery by making the kinds of things that fans want to promote easy to pitch and easy to find. Too often music discovery sites foreground the parts that can be done by machine, forgetting that the most meaningful music recommendations emerge unpredictably when the technosocial fabric is woven well enough within and across sites to let interpersonal surprises occur.

On a related note, triple extra credit to Future Clouds & Radar for pitching this holiday bonus:

When Radiohead released their wonderful new recording “In Rainbows ” last month for a special “pay what you want” price, few could have predicted the paralyzing backlash of consumer guilt and psychic gridlock that would grip the world as it became known that over 80% of consumers took the goods for free! The good news is Future Clouds and Radar can, in this special yuletide offer, help you and yours alleviate your guilt just in time for the holidays. By sending us just $23 US you will receive our double CD debut ($16 value) and make a $7 donation (actual Radiohead value) to our depleted coffers in the good name of Radiohead. Just write on your check or email with your payment the words “I feel bad about what I did to Radiohead” and we will make sure your act of contrition does not go unnoticed. Rest assured a band who needs your support far more than Radiohead will put the funds to good use and we will, as a special bonus, use a percentage of the revenue to fashion a Radiohead shrine available for viewing at our shows- topped off by a motorized Thome York figurine who will be programmed to gyrate spasmodically and caterwall in daring gibberish that verges on profundity at times!

I wonder how that worked out.

How good a friend is a friend?

With my colleague Andrew Ledbetter at Ohio University, I’ve been finishing up a paper looking at relational development amongst “friends” on Our paper’s been accepted for presentation at the Association of Internet Researchers’ annual meeting in Copenhagen in October. Here’s the abstract. Forgive the heavy academese:

Tunes that Bind? Predicting Friendship Strength in a Music-Based Social Network
To be presented at Internet Research 9.0; Copenhagen, 2008.

“Friendship” is an inherently ambiguous relational descriptor. In social network sites, where “friend” is often the only word available to label relationships, the ambiguity seems only to be enhanced (e.g. boyd, 2006; Fono & Reynes-Goldie, 2006; Gross & Acquisti, 2005). This paper seeks to shed light on the nature of “friendships” in one social networking site. Founded in London in 2005, functions as both a social network site and a music recommendation, streaming and, to a lesser extent, downloading service. In May 2007, when it was bought by CBS Corporation for US$280 million, boasted more than 15 million active users in hundreds of countries. To our knowledge, there has not been any academic study of social dimensions of

The data reported here come from an international survey of users. The 559 respondents (36.5% female, 63.5% male) from 48 countries were recruited through messages posted to’s two general interest site-wide discussion forums. Each time one opens a profile page, one’s friends list appears in a random order. Participants were asked to open their profile in another window and think about the first person on that list in answering a series of questions about their relationship. After assessing a number of baseline facts about friendships (number of friends, proportion that began on, average length of friendships), we conducted a 4-step multiple regression analysis to determine the predictive value of four sets of variables on relational strength.

We measured relational strength with the scale used by Chan, Cheng, and Grand (2004), a shorter version of that created by Parks and Floyd (1996). This 18-item scale assesses six of the dimensions Parks (2007, p. 27) argues, “constitute a definition of the relational change process.” These include interdependence, depth or intimacy of interaction, breadth or variety of interaction, commitment, predictability and understanding, and code change and coordination. Because scores on each of these dimensions showed high intercorrelation, we treated the scale as a single measure of relational strength.

We examined four sets of variables’ correlations with relational strength, controlling for each previous set with the introduction of the next set. First we considered demographic factors including age, gender, and geographic location. Second, we looked at partner similarity (homophily) in terms of those demographic variables and musical taste. Third, we addressed the extent to which relational partners use media other than (face-to-face, telephone, text messaging, email, chat, instant messaging, communication via other websites, and postal mail) to communicate. Finally, we examined whether communicating via itself correlates with relational strength above and beyond communication via other media.

We found that on average, the relationships were of moderately low strength, just below the midpoint on the scale. friendships were likely to be stronger when (1) the partner was female, (2) the relationship was between partners of different sexes, (3) the partners did not meet through, (4) the partners also communicated face-to-face, on the telephone, through text messaging, via email, via IM, or on another website, and (5) the partners communicated via Homophily, even in musical taste, did not correspond to friendship strength except in the case of sex, where it lessened relational strength. Chat and postal mail did not correlate with relational strength.

These results suggest that – and likely other social network sites – serves as just one node in stronger relationships. By itself, does not seem to lead to strong relationships. As a relationship-formation site, it fosters weak ties. However, in conjunction with other modes of communication, it may enhance already strong partnerships. The findings lend further support to Haythornthwaite’s (2005) theory of “media multiplexity,” in which she argues that the number of media through which people communicate should be added to the definition of “strong ties.” Our results also demonstrate the importance of considering diverse modes of online interaction separately, as well as examining how their use is interwoven.


boyd, d. (2006). Friends, Friendsters, and MySpace Top 8: Writing community into being on social network sites. First Monday, 11 (12).

Chan, D., Cheng, K.S. & Grand, H.L. (2004). A comparison of offline and online friendship qualities at different stages of relationship development. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Vol 21(3), 305-320.

Fono, D., & Raynes-Goldie, K. (2006). Hyperfriendship and beyond: Friends and social norms on LiveJournal. In M. Consalvo & C. Haythornthwaite (Eds.), Internet Research Annual Volume 4: Selected Papers from the AOIR Conference (pp. 91-103). New York: Peter Lang.

Gross, R., & Acquisti, A. (2005). Information revelation and privacy in online social networks. Proceedings of WPES’05 (pp. 71-80). Alexandria, VA: ACM.

Haythornthwaite, C. (2005). Social networks and Internet connectivity effects. Information, Communication, & Society, 8 (2), 125-147.

Parks, M.R. (2007). Personal Relationships and Personal Networks. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Parks, M. R., & Floyd, K. (1996). Making friends in cyberspace. Journal of Communication, 46(1), 80-97.