Johnson, Huberman, and Twitter! Oh My!

So, for my English class we were assigned Steven Johnson’s How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live and Bernardo A. Huberman, et al.’s Social Networks That Matter: Twitter Under the Microscope for our weekly blog project. These were two very different articles with two very different objectives. Johnson set out to show that Twitter is truly changing the way we communicate with one another. Huberman, et al. are studying trends of “friends”, followers, and how the number of followers and friends has an effect on the number of posts a person puts out.

Huberman, et al.’s work was extremely interesting. They were examining numbers of posts versus numbers of friends and followers. Quite frankly, their work reminded me of high school. First of all, the popular kids who were followed by more and more people seemed to have less and less friends. They eventually would reach a point where they would keep gaining followers simply because of how popular they are and not because of actual content. With that increase, the ability for them to have actual friends proportional to those who follow rapidly approaches zero. Lots of adoration, but no meaningful relationships.

On the flip-side, the more real friends that someone had the more active they were. Those people valued their relationships and posted more actively as reciprocation increased. Again, thinking back to the days of high school, that makes perfect sense. Those meaningful relationships were more cherished and therefore more was given in return. Even though Huberman, et al. were not actually seeking to make connections to real world social reactions; I believe their work simply showed what many of us already knew. They just showed that the dynamics of social relationships applied just as easily to something like Twitter as it does to the real world.

While the Huberman, et al. article was purely a research article, Johnson’s piece was one of great enthusiasm. His article read more as cheerleading than anything else. He is very enthusiastic about the possibilities that Twitter offers to the world.

Johnson spends a good portion of the article explaining the various mechanics of Twitter. From the hashtag to the @ comment, they are all covered. He does point out that these features of Twitter were not initially included. No, they are all innovations of the users themselves. Like Johnson, I too find this absolutely fascinating. For a platform that has grown like it has over the past five years, Twitter has allowed its user base to direct the flow of information and how it gets disseminated. This may make them unique amongst the various social platforms.

Johnson goes on to point out that the innovations shown on Twitter are indicative of American innovation as a whole. He points out that the criticism that American innovation has been outsourced is false. Twitter alone has an entire cottage industry built around it. There are untold numbers of software titles available to help people customize their Twitter feeds. That may not seem like a lot, but it goes to show that we still find ways to make existing products better; even if that means inventing other products to do so.

Another aspect of Johnson’s article is that companies are getting in to the game. Advertising is becoming more and more prevalent on Twitter as well as other social media outlets. Companies spend big bucks to have their products thrust in to social conversations. What better way to sell your product than through people other people trust and listen to? I know I am more likely to purchase product X if my friend Joe tells me how awesome it is versus some random dude on a commercial telling me the same thing. Joe’s opinion means more to me than an actor’s opinion.

When the cards are laid down on the table, Twitter definitely shows a winning hand. They enable people to connect in ways never thought possible. Much like the chat rooms of old, Twitter allows real time access to information, gossip, and news. The big difference is that Twitter lets us do it from anywhere. Whether it be on the phone, laptop, or iPad, Twitter is there and it’s always something different.


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