Over the last couple of years, I've played with various aspects of the Statusphere. Recently, I've settled down to a pretty steady pattern of using just Twitter and Facebook. As others have noticed that I use either one, they often ask me "What is Twitter for?" or "Why do people use Facebook?" At the time, I have generally mumbled something incoherent about "fun". In an effort, to work it out for myself, I've come up with a couple of theories. My current favourite is: it is best to view the Statusphere as a Gift Culture.
In a previous post (Coining the Statusphere), I explained that by "Statusphere" I mean all the ways of letting others know what's on your mind in a succinct manner. That includes Twitter, Facebook and FriendFeed.
In another post (A Gift Culture), I talked about the idea of Gift Economies / Cultures in which the biggest gift-giver is the biggest winner. I contrasted this notion of winning by giving with the popular conception of winning in market economies: winning by hoarding. (This is a over-simplification, a generalization and a severe distortion of what market economic theorists would say. I mean, I don't even cite a single bit of proof for this winning-by-hoarding idea as being a "popular conception". Feel free to supply all this on your own blog).
I see all the sharing of links to youtube videoes and sending each other sleeping puppies on Facebook as being gift giving. Crucially, it is done in public (or, at least, in front of an audience). And the audience can comment - or at least "like" - the gift. These two gestures - clicking "like" or making a comment - combined by IRL feedback of "I love your Facebook updates!" translate into accrued goodness. It rewards the gift giver.
Similarly, the "retweet" phenomenon on Twitter (in which someone repeats someone else's tweet and gives them credit) is a way of rewarding a gift to the Twitterverse. And there are plenty of gifts on Twitter. For example, the idea of "live tweeting" an event, in which someone relays the key points of the conference they are attending so that others my participate vicariously. Or sharing links to photos or audio. Or the crazes like #followfriday in which you recommend your favourite twitters to others. All gifts to the twitterverse.
A variation on this notion of gift giving is how you can ask questions and get group responses. On both Twitter and Facebook, I see people ask questions and get amazingly good answers. I've even asked some questions myself. The answers are the gift in my theory.
So, there you have it. If you don't *get* Twitter or Facebook, then try to see them as gift-giving competitions. The more you give, the more you get.