★ On Twitter, Facebook, and Communication Habits

I've virtually abandoned Facebook in favor of Twitter. I've been thinking about it a little bit lately, and I think there are two things that have caused that, one of which is technological and one of which is philosophical. Neither has anything to do with privacy. I've more or less accepted that I live in an age where traditional notions of privacy have been thrown away as part of an agreement with web companies: they give us spectacular online services, and in exchange we give them the information they need to market virtually anything to us. I don't have a problem with that. What I have a problem with is that as the Facebook platform has grown, it and I have grown apart. I think that the first issue is that my web consumption habits have radically changed, beginning with my return from China in 2007. The allure of Facebook was always in that it facilitated connectivity and gave communication a much-needed speed-boost. The problem is that the Facebook experience is one that almost demands that you be tethered to a computer at all times in order to really get the most of it. Four years ago that was perfectly acceptable because compelling mobile communications devices were limited to BlackBerrys and dumbphones. But when the iPhone launched in 2007 and gave rise to the thriving smartphone industry, suddenly being a really good desktop communications network wasn't good enough for me anymore. Add to that the fact that my time in China was functionally spent in semi-isolation, and it becomes obvious that I wasn't really in the mood to having the vast majority of my social interactions through a website that require me to sit at my desk.

When I got my iPhone after graduation, everything changed. Suddenly I was untethered from my computer and constantly accompanied by a powerful internet communications device at all times. And the fact of the matter is that despite a few promising iterations, the Facebook apps for the iPhone just aren't what they should be. They're slow, buggy, and generally not pleasant to use. Even the official Facebook app doesn't do the job. Facebook's presence in the mobile space is just not very fulfilling.

Twitter, on the other hand, is perfect for mobile. I've alternated between Tweetie (now Twitter for iPhone), Seesmic, Echofon, and Twitterrific over the last year. They're all spectacular, and they all let me do everything that Twitter is about: post quick updates, read what other interesting people are saying, and converse. Converse. That's it. The apps work, and they bring a service perfect for on-the-go communication to devices perfect for the service. And for a young man on the go, that's hugely important.

The second issues is that as my consumption habits have changed, the way I view technology has changed as well. One look at this web site will tell you that I've entered something of  a minimalist phase. I've become fascinated by the idea of stripping things down so that I have exactly enough tools at my disposal to do exactly what I want to do and nothing more. The problem I'm having with Facebook is that it doesn't conform to that philosophy. No matter how hard I try to cut it down, there will always be significantly more of Facebook than I want to use. I'm left with the choice then of either putting a lot of effort into parts of the system that I don't care about, or neglecting duties to the system that are expected of me.

Twitter, by contrast, strips out all of that profile and like and fan nonsense and lets me get to the core of what I want to do on a social network: communicate with people. The fact that Twitter does less than Facebook is its greatest strength, because it forces users to focus solely on what matters. And because all I have to do on Twitter is tweet, I can get involved in conversations much more easily, both with old friends and new ones, than I ever could on Facebook. Twitter's limitations enable me to enjoy it more, because all I have to worry about is its core functionality.

And really, that's what it's all about. Facebook didn't always have an open API with a gajillion connected applications. It didn't always offer every possible tech solution under the sun. Once upon a time, it was just about communication. That's changed now, and not necessarily for worse in a holistic sense. But it is a community that I'm less and less interested in being a party of, especially when Twitter is offering a simpler solution that enables easier, more mobile, and more direct communication. No futile and empty status updates. No meaningless "likes." No FarmVille. Just a simple conversation with anyone. It's a beautiful thing.

Why bother with Facebook?

(For more thoughts, check out what Nick Smith has to say on the subject.)