One difference is that the WELL had a taxonomy: it was called a conferencing system, and was organized as conferences on subjects like Health, Media, Grateful Dead, Virtual Communities, Art, History, Design, etc. Topics were pretty free-ranging within the major subjects, but you knew where you would go to discuss a particular subject. On Facebook, there’s no organizing my subject. All kinds of conversations appear in Facebook’s news feed or activity stream – right now I see conversations about climate change and volcanoes, events, Texas politics, design, business, etc. – not organized in any particular way. A stream of comments some of which become conversations, many casual, some more active and compelling. This really seems to work, and the converations lately are not dissimilar from those I see on the WELL, despite structural differences between the WELL and Facebook.
I find myself drifting more and more into Facebook because there are real, sustained conversations there, unlike Twitter’s more drive-by posting – and because I don’t have to fiddle with a 140 character limit. Twitter feels very broadcast, compared to Facebook (or Wave, or other conversational systems). Not to diminish its importance – Twitter is a great place to share short bursts of information and links. But it’s less “social.”
This is me thinking aloud. Is there a business conclusion from all this?
I’ll close with this thought: I spoke to a group of Realtors last week, and told them not to expect miracles from social media. You’re not using social media because it’s somehow going to bring you more business than traditional media. You’re using it because it’s taking mindshare from traditional media. The audience is there – on the plus side, you can target more specifically the people who might be your customers or clients; on the minus side, they’re scattered over multiple platforms, you have to connect more directly than before, and they don’t often answer the door when salesmen come.