Facebook and Twitter and Google Plus… oh my!

By Kristopher A. Nelson
in July 2011

1000 words / 5 min.
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So now we’ve got three-well, more like four-big players in the social networking space: Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and LinkedIn. Add to that a few other common options-the backyard fence, email, telephone, and carrier pigeon-and the choices of where to share the details on your latest (technology) crush appear insurmountably complex.

Please note that this post is from 2011. Evaluate with care and in light of later events.

So now we’ve got three–well, more like four–big players in the social networking space: Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and LinkedIn (sorry MySpace, Live.com, Yahoo!, Bebo, Friendster, XING, and others). Add to that a few other common options–the backyard fence, email, telephone, and carrier pigeon–and the choices of where to share the details on your latest (technology) crush appear insurmountably complex.

But really, each of these has choices is distinct, and in many cases their use-cases do not overlap. Carrier pigeons, for example, are really point-to-point messaging mechanisms, unless you have a flock–and they take time to breed, so they are a poor choice if you have need to keep people updated on a variety of different topics. And unlike the owls of Harry Potter, carrier pigeons go to places and not people–so tracking down your significant other in either Greece or Italy–why won’t they call?–is out. (You may, of course, find different ways to make these work for you–in the digital age, square pegs can be refactored to fit in round holes, after all.)

Facebook logo
Image via Wikipedia


Facebook is the ideal place for keeping in touch with real people I’ve really met, especially if I’m likely to lose track of them otherwise. It’s geographically diverse, lets me share enough to give people a sense they’ve got an idea what I’m up to, and (despite its best efforts otherwise) lets me otherwise stay private (with caveats). So who do I connect with on Facebook? Friends (of various levels) from high school, college, postgrad. Friends–not professional colleagues–from work. Tricky decisions of categorization abound, of course: is this colleague enough of a friend for me to connect with them on Facebook, or do they belong on LinkedIn only? Segregating people into groups with various privacy settings help, of course, as does not sharing things I don’t want the public to possibly see. Sure, this is friend-stuff, but nothing I put on Facebook would be too embarrassing, or cost me a job. Facebook has been pushing pages (AP, PBS, BBC, business generally) that share non-personal information, but I’m increasingly finding this a distraction from the reason I use Facebook: people.

Image representing LinkedIn as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase


LinkedIn has been touted as the professional version of Facebook, but that’s only partly true. LinkedIn is not really about sharing day-to-day details about me, but rather about highlighting my accomplishments and work. But beyond that, it’s mostly a Rolodex of up-to-date business cards of people I’ve dealt with professionally. I will connect with any colleague (or one of my undergrads) on LinkedIn without hesitation, unlike on Facebook. In terms of privacy, well, the point is to be visible and findable professionally. So that’s what goes up there. No home addresses, no home telephone numbers, just business contact details.

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase


Twitter is for link sharing and quick conversations (very quick, and very short) with absolutely anyone I find remotely interesting. I don’t refollow anyone who follows me, only those I think are interesting. I share things I want to broadcast with the world (but am too polite to get a bullhorn). Sometimes it’s personal, sometimes professional, but always with the idea that anyone might read it. It’s great for more distant connections with people I may or may not ever meet, but who say and write about interesting things.

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

Google Plus

Google Plus is the new player, but it brings in some of the best of both Twitter and Facebook. Yes, I can put my actual friends in circles and easily limit what I share with just them (so that’s a bit like Facebook, but more focused). No, not everyone I know on Facebook is on Google Plus (and may never be). Google Plus also lets me follow people I’ve never met who say interesting things, like Twitter, but it emphasizes longer posts and more detailed, threaded conversations–without forcing me to dance with privacy settings as on Facebook, and without assuming these people are actually my friends (even if they could be). In many respects, I’m finding that it challenges quick-blogging services like Posterous and Tumblr more than Facebook or LinkedIn. It does seem a potential threat to Twitter, which I am finding myself more and more viewing as a social link sharing service as opposed to a discussion mechanism (but it’s GREAT for that).


So, here it is in short form:

Facebook: real people, real sharing of personal (but not too personal) information. If you actually know me in “real life,” friend me. If not, go elsewhere. I share semi-personal stuff here (what I had for dinner and who made it).

LinkedIn: real people doing real business networking. If I’ve met you in a professional capacity, connect with me. If not, well, tell me why we can do business! I share only professional info here.

Twitter: on the Internet, no one knows if you’re a dog, but we do care if you have something interesting to share. If you do, follow me and I might follow you back. If you don’t, follow me and I won’t follow you back. I share thoughts and links here.

Google Plus: real people (for now) sharing what they found interesting today, including articles, thoughts, stories, and photos. If you actually know me, I might add you to my Friends circle; if not, but you are interesting, you’ll make Following. Please give me commentary with your links!

Maybe next week I’ll explain how I use carrier pigeons.