Welcome to the bloggy home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Percolate and general internet tinkerer. This site is about media, culture, technology, and randomness. It's been around since 2004 (I'm pretty sure). Feel free to get in touch. Get in touch.

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Twitter and Opaqueness

First off, I’m headed to Ireland this weekend for the Electric Picnic. If you happen to be around, drop me a line.

Okay, now on to some real stuff. I want to talk about Twitter. For those unfamiliar with the service it’s a sort of microblogging platform that allows you to send posts via text message, web or third-party app. Friends subscribe and can receive your posts through any of those portals. For a long time I couldn’t figure out what the point of Twitter was. It seemed like it was solving a problem I didn’t have.

But then we built House of Naked and included Twitter integration. All of a sudden everyone from work was Twittering back and forth as it was the easiest way to add content to the site. Once I had a real-life social network on the service it became a far more useful tool. Twitter has become a place for exchanging funny quotes and inside jokes within a network who exists within a certain proximity and mindset. The majority of people I’m subscribed to exist within this network and while occasionally I find it annoying that my phone is constantly buzzing with new text messages (or that I get a $300 phone bill because I hadn’t turned on unlimited texts), overall I love this connection point and feel like it’s brought much of the office closer.

Overall I think the service has been quite brilliant in the way it’s handled itself. Twitter never really tried to describe what it did and rather has allowed its users to determine the path of the service. For instance in July they streamlined the friending process. Rather than having to chose between “friend” and “follow” (which no one quite understood), they changed it to just “follow” and gave users the option to receive notifications via SMS. In doing so, they solved what I believe to be the most fundamental problem with social networks at the moment.

As anyone on Facebook can attest to, making friendship a binary decision makes things quite difficult on occasion. Sure you can give someone a “limited profile”, however, the user on the other end knows that you’ve done this. It kind of feels like calling someone an “acquaintance” to their face. Friendship is not a binary thing. We all have different levels of people we call “friends”, ranging from folks we talk to every day to those we’ve met once.

Twitter solved this problem incredibly elegantly. You can add anyone as a follower, however, you can be very selective about who you subscribe to on your mobile without letting the other party know. This kind of opaque management of social connections is almost completely unheard of anywhere else. There are lots of people trying to figure this problem out at the moment, but no one besides Twitter (which is also a fundamentally different kind of social software) seems to be doing a particularly well.

Not quite sure what to do with all this, just wanted to get it out there.

And I wanted to find a way to put “opaque management of social connections” into a sentence. Have a great long weekend.

Update (9/11/07): I signed up for an Orkut account and they have a feature that seems to do just this. It allows you to opaquely decide where someone falls on a friendship scale of 1-5.

August 30, 2007