I’m becoming more and more convinced that eventually Twitter/Tumblr usage levels will eventually be higher than Facebook/Google+. By usage level, I’m talking about the aggregate time the average user spends on each platform. Facebook and Google+ will probably always have more users just as a function of people using those platforms to connect online with people they know. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be the preferred method of sharing. It just means that Facebook and Google+ will be used as an online address book.
It comes down to one simple reason. You can separate elements of yourself on Twitter or Tumblr because of the relative levels of anonymity they grant you in conjunction with ability to have multiple accounts. Facebook and Google+ pushes users to a single identity which they are identified across the web if they are signed in. This causes some problems for users:
- Careers - For most people, it is safer to not let their prospective or current employers to know too much about themselves. You never know how something might be viewed. So let’s say you are on facebook where you are not technically to have multiple accounts. What happens when there is a picture of a person with a beer? They might get fired. What happens if they voice a complaint or frustration about work? They might get fired. What happens if they express a personal opinion that their employer disagrees with. They might get fired. With a single identity, the risk aversion towards sharing is heightened. Over time, people will gradually share less and less.
- Conflicting networks - People are involved in different social circles with different perspectives. For various reasons, a person might not want various elements of their life to intersect. Right now, if a person adds pictures of me on Facebook, I have two options. Either I keep it and have it prominently on my profile for everyone to see. Or I delete it and disappears form my personal album of tagged pictures as well. So let’s say I go to someone’s birthday party, who one of my friends dislikes. Well, that has an adverse affect on my social life. Or maybe you play dungeons and dragons, do you want people who play D&D with you to post on your wall? There are a plethora of examples where things are better off split.
Let’s go to twitter and tumblr. Well on these platforms you can cut different elements of yourself out and share anonymously and freely. Posting pictures of cats all day on a tumblog is fine and without consequences and you can connect with other people love random pictures of cats. Doing so on facebooks risks derision. But you can do that for hours on tumblr. You can do the same for whatever obscure interests you have.
Anyways, I don’t think there will ever be one social network to rule them all. That type of thinking is short-sighted and doesn’t take into account the complexities of socialization in the real world.
To go along with this idea of identity partitioning, I don’t think it’s a good idea for so many sites to be pushing “Connect on Facebook” options. Sometimes it’s better to allow people to wing it out alone in a new environment without attachments to everything else. There’s a reason why college is invigorating when a student first enters a residential campus. It’s a new environment disconnected from previous connections which may pigeonhole your options. I think the same applies to online environments. There is something wonderful that happens when people are granted the opportunity to re-invent themselves without any prior baggage. Efforts to pigeonhole someone to a singular uniform identity limits user’s ability to express or try out new things.
Why do people like to relocate? Sometimes it’s the weather or geography. But other times, people relocate because it offers an opportunity to change themselves. Sites that allow people this same experience (of freedom and reinvention) online offer something special that sites that push people into a singular identity (more often than not through a facebook sign-in) cannot. Sites that are forcing people to comment only through a facebook sign-in are killing themselves to a segment of the population. As I’m writing this, I’m thinking this is an opportunity. Everything out there online right now that is interactive, there is an opportunity if the competitors are forcing people into a uniform identity. As a company/community, if you let people express themselves anonymously or in distinct identities (through say disqus or something else), you have a market to yourself already. There’s a lot of different opportunities here. This is something I need to think more about.