Yes Virginia Twitter is a Social Network

In order to establish that Twitter is a “social networking” platform and not simply an “information network” we must begin with the definitions which will establish the criteria by which we will analyze Twitter.

Definition 1:

“A social network is a social structure made up of individuals (or organizations) called “nodes”, which are tied (connected) by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as friendship, kinship, common interest, financial exchange, dislike, sexual relationships, or relationships of beliefs, knowledge or prestige.”

n.a. (2011) “Social Network.” Wikipedia [on-line] accessed 22 September 2011 from

Definition 2: 

“We define social network sites as web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. The nature and nomenclature of these connections may vary from site to site.

While we use the term “social network site” to describe this phenomenon, the term “social networking sites” also appears in public discourse, and the two terms are often used interchangeably. We chose not to employ the term “networking” for two reasons: emphasis and scope. “Networking” emphasizes relationship initiation, often between strangers. While networking is possible on these sites, it is not the primary practice on many of them, nor is it what differentiates them from other forms of computer-mediated communication (CMC).

What makes social network sites unique is not that they allow individuals to meet strangers, but rather that they enable users to articulate and make visible their social networks. ”

Ellison, N. B. and Boyd, D (2007).  “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication Volume 13, Issue 1, pages 210–230, October. Accessed via Wiley Online Library 22 September 2011

The Criteria

From the list we can establish a list of criteria that distinguish social networks from information networks:

  • A social structure made of nodes
  • A public or semi-public profile
  • Relationship initiation
  • An interdependent connection
  • A variety of factors upon which to predicate connections (ie friendship, common interest, beliefs, etc)
  • The ability to articulate lists of other users with shared associations
As indicated in the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, the major unifying factor is the ability to “enable users to articulate and make visible their social networks.”
The Evaluation
Does Twitter meet the criteria above that define a “social network”? I would postulate that indeed it does:
1. A social structure made of nodes: YES
Diagram of Twitter Networks
Diagram of Twitter Followers of Michael Atkisson
2. A public or semi-public profile: YES
@derekdevries Twitter Profile
Illustration: Twitter Profile of @derekdevries
3. Relationship Initiation: YES
Twitter Relationship Initiation - "Who to Follow"
Illustration of Relationship Initiation in Twitter - "Who to Follow"
4. An interdependent connection: YES
Interdependent Relationship - Ashley Curd
Illustration of Interdependent Relationships - Ashley Curd and Derek DeVries Both Follow...
5. A variety of factors upon which to predicate relationships: YES
Relationship Predicating Factors
Illustration: Relationship-Predicating Factors ("who to follow" and "lists")
6. The ability to articulate lists of shared connections: YES
Ability to Articulate Shared Connections
Illustration: the Ability to Articulate Shared Connections (your lists, who you’re following)
In summary, Twitter meets all of the criteria that define social networks.  While it may have started as an information network, shortly after its inception the addition of features and the manner in which it was used by Twitterers turned it into a social network.  Even if one were to discount all of the additions that Twitter has made itself to the platform, the way in which platforms like Twitter are commonly used in partnership with other social networking platforms (such as Klout, WeFollow, etc.) and tools means that the end result is ultimately a social network.

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