Why Twitter wins in real time, every time

Twitter may only have a quarter of the user base of Facebook but when it comes to real time social, Goliath is consistently getting his ass handed to him by David.

If this fact needed highlighting then a giant 10,000 watt torch was shone on it during Superbowl Sunday as Twitter received mentions in over 6 times (26 compared to 4) the number of national tv commercials. Perhaps unsurprisingly, G+ didn’t receive any mentions at all, which does further call into question recent suggestions that Google now has the second most popular social network; clearly advertisers don’t think so!


Eli Langer of CNBC argues that there are three basic characteristics of Facebook which, while vital to their model, make it fundamentally impossible for the social giant to attract the same level of interest during real time events:

  • No restriction on message length – well, that’s not quite true. The cap is 63,206, by which point the event has ended and you may as well be reading about it in the news the following day. Twitter is real time because it’s fast, and it’s fast because it’s short. When you tweet you are not crafting the perfect message that’ll be recited in years to come. You’re making a raw, unpolished statement that’ll disappear into the ether as fast as a arrived. That’s how conversations work.
  • A news feed based on quality rather than chronology – it would be pretty rubbish if every time you logged into Facebook you were presented with a chain of random events from your network listed in simple chronological order, but that’s exactly what’s required for a social network to function in real time. So while their ‘top story’ algorithm offers a far more satisfying user experience 95% of the time, that 5% when something big is happening NOW is handed straight over to the chronological Twitter.
  • Closed networks – unlike twitter where every statement is announced to the globe, the nature of the Facebook friend network provides for much more intimate and insular experience. This is one of its most important and defining characteristics, but it also reduces the sense of a globally shared experience that big advertisers are increasingly tapping into via Twitter.

Can this change any time soon?

In the short term probably not. The characteristics that make Facebook weak in real time are the same characteristics that make it completely dominant more generally – timelines, albums, friend histories – all the things that strengthen your loyalty (even dependency) on the worlds’ largest social network. To jeopardise that in an attempt play a bigger role in real-time social would be very brave, possibly foolish, decision.

You can see the Eli Langer article in full here.


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