Brian Ma's Blog (@zealoustiger)

Weekly insights from an Entreprenuer: To spend one year as a tiger is better than to live forever as sheep

Novelty of Twitter: Relationships, social capital, and eavesdropping

It wasn’t so a year ago, but now, with Twitter’s 300%+ growth per month and endorsements by celebrities like Shaq, Oprah, Ellen, and Aston Kutcher, it’s clear that Twitter has become mainstream and important enough to warrant some serious thought.  So what’s so novel about Twitter?

A quick google search on Twitter will find you countless articles on why twitter is effective – ease of use, marketing value, follow/fan structure, real time, recommendations, etc.  Even the big brands – Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, etc are taking a good look at how to leverage and capitalize on what Twitter has built – better recommendation systems?  better real time search?  better marketing presences?  The possibilities are endless.

I won’t regurgitate what any of those articles have said – they’re all good, but I’m going to argue that the most compelling thing about twitter is not real-time, not recommendations, or anything stated previously, but something much much more basic – Relationships and social capital.


Think about it.  Ever since we were in grade school, we’ve had an innate understanding of a couple things: 1) You need to make friends to play with at recess.  2) You make friends and get to know your friends by the stupid things they say or do  3) If you catch your friends or anyone saying something incredibly stupid, you can use it for many useful things – conversation starters, jokes, or even blackmail.

This is social capital at work.  The more you know about your friend’s likes, dislikes, quirks, pet peeves etc, the more you’re in a position to capitalize on that knowledge.  This is nothing new.  We’ve had the means to learn about our friends before through f2f conversations, IM, status messages, facebook, etc.  What twitter has allowed us to do is expand and scale that beyond the imaginable.  We can now not only talk to our friends, but also listen to our friend’s thoughts (things they may not say to us f2f) as well as expand beyond our friends to people or even brands that we may admire or find intriguing.  This is eavesdropping at it’s best.

Knowing everything there is to know about someone gives you power.  This power is social capital.  And twitter has made this both convenient and painless.  That is the novelty of Twitter.

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