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Friday, 31 January 2014

Tale of two social media platforms

We are a social media crazy nation. We are always on Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and what have you! Undeniably, Facebook is now the third deity in the pantheon, joining Cricket and Cinema as the nation's favourite pastime. 114 million Indians now kneel at the altar of Facebook, morning, noon and night. In 2013, India has added 36 million users, becoming the second largest country on Facebook while Twitter has added just over 6 million users. A minority in the social scheme of things, Twitter has only 20 million users in the country. Why do people prefer Facebook over Twitter?

The question has been puzzling me for a while. On asking a few people who are otherwise fairly vociferous on social media but have chosen to shun Twitter, I finally got my answer. People prefer the 'social' angle of social media a lot to the 'media' angle. Facebook is more social while Twitter is more 'media'.  

Facebook is like a telephone. It is based on a two-way relationship. By granting access to your Facebook page, you are allowing other people to be a part of your life as it happens. Facebook 'Friends' are a known circle of people who you want to update about myriad activities and opinions - from last night's dinner to what you think about the country's politicians. The joy of Facebook engagement comes from the reciprocation you receives from your friends via likes and comments.

On the other hand, Twitter is like a customised newspaper. It is about time sensitive information and opinions. Just like viewership and circulation figures of traditional media, the gratification lies in the number of followers and the power to influence the people who follow you. But most common people are happy to 'influence' or share their opinion with friends and family who are already connected to them on Facebook and do not feel the need to 'influence' the janta, leaving it to the film stars and politicians.  

Twitter is a great place to debate for people who feel strongly about certain issues. However, people feel that the 140 character limit makes most conversations shallow. A good debate or a point of view needs a little more space than that. On the other hand, the brevity increases the noise. Anyone can create or contribute to any conversation, making it difficult to separate the important from the trivial.

Moreover, as far as opinions go, specially the ones aired by our politicians, they seem to be everywhere! From TV channels to newspapers to news apps and Facebook, we are bombarded with everyone's opinion. It seems the last thing one needs is another channel to add to their already media-saturated life.

Twitter is perceived as a great platform by those who want to influence and those who want to get influenced. Despite its video and picture sharing features, it is still not perceived as a medium for the hoi polloi to communicate the banalities of everyday life. For most people, the joy of social media lies in the voyeuristic pleasures of peeping into the lives and minds of people they know and not in the opinions of the people they don't know. So as long as Twitter carries the weight of a serious medium, it will not become the darling of the masses.